“Among the many tales of shipwreck on the Pacific few are more thrilling than that of the rescue of the captain and crew of the schooner Churchill on French Frigate shoals”. (Star-bulletin, October 31, 1917)
Whoa … let’s look back.
In 1850, Captain Asa Meade Simpson, a Maine shipbuilder, came west, drawn by the California Gold Rush. In 1855, he arrived at the “north bend” of the Coos Bay estuary, Oregon. Recognizing the value of the region’s coal and timber, he set up a sawmill; the businesses expanded and turned out a variety of wood products, from fruit boxes to fancy doors.
He also established a shipyard (the first in Oregon) and hired master craftsmen to build ships that would carry lumber products worldwide. Simpson’s son, Louis Jerome (LJ) Simpson, arrived in North Bend in 1899. He purchased the adjacent undeveloped town site of Yarrow, which he merged with his father’s land in 1903 to create the City of North Bend.
From 1859 to 1903, at this location he would have 56 ‘world class’ tall ships built for the growing lumber empire. (Tall Ships SFO) Large wooden schooners were the economic mainstay of American shipping between the Civil War period and World War I. They were the sailing workhorses of the Pacific. (NOAA)
One of them was the Churchill.
Launched on March 4, 1900, the 178-foot, 600-ton four-masted schooner Churchill was built by the Simpson Lumber Co for their own account. Later, the Churchill was owned by Charles Nelson & Co of San Francisco.
Then, the fateful voyage.
“The Churchill left Port Angeles on May 27 with a cargo of lumber for Sydney. After discharging at Sydney the vessel proceeded to Tongata, where a cargo of about 800 tons of copra was placed aboard. Her destination from there was Seattle.”
(Copra is the dried meat of the coconut. Coconut oil is extracted from it and has made copra an important agricultural commodity. Also coconut cake is extracted mainly used as feed for livestock.)
On board the Churchill were Captain Charles Granzow, his two sons Carl (age 7) and Loftus (age 14,) and nine other crew members (Chief Officer: Henry Anderson, Second Officer: Fred Wilson, Carpenter John Wessick, Seamen: A. Anderson, William Miller, Daniel Pinzoin, Pedro Romos, Sterling Jones and Hugo Munch.)
“Capt. Granzow has been master of the schooner Churchill for the past three or four years. She has called at Honolulu on infrequent voyages, but been chiefly in the lumber trade between the Northwest and Australia.”
“The Churchill was 27 days out from Nukualofa, Tongata, when she drifted upon a reef of the French Frigate shoals. This was after winds had carried her westward from her course and following a calm of several days. ‘Currents after that was the only reason for the wreck,’ declared Mate Anderson”.
Fortunately for them, some folks from the Islands were nearby fishing from the Makaiwa.
“The power sampan Makaiwa left Honolulu on Monday, October 22. In the party were Harold W Rice; Lieutenant KE Ferris, USN, formerly captain of the Kestrel; Arthur Rice, HL Tucker and the captain and crew of the sampan, as follows: William Feuerpeil, crew captain; Johnny Vasconcellos, chief engineer; Manuel Deponte, second engineer; Levi Faunfata, a Samoan seaman.”
“Arthur Rice, who had intended only to fish as far as Kauai and leave the party there, carried out his plan, so he was not with the sampan when it turned westward from the Hawaiian group. The party had fished on the way to Kauai and also after starting for Bird Island.”
Rice and the rest of the party “were bound for the Western Islands on a fishing trip when they sighted the Churchill … slowly pounding to pieces.”
“Captain Granzow told the Honolulans that the night before, that is the night of October 25, the schooner had struck the big reef about 9 o’clock. The vessel seemed to come off after striking, but then went on again and pounded heavily all night.”
“The Churchill was sighted in acute distress on the morning of Friday, October 26, by the fishermen and the sampan immediately went to her rescue. … Had it not been for the timely arrival of the sampan at French Frigate shoals, Captain Granzow and his men believe they would surely have perished by fire, water or sharks.” (Star Bulletin, October 30, 1917)
“That he was true to all the traditions of the sea is the tale told of Capt Charles Granzow, master of the wrecked schooner Churchill, by the members of his crew.”
“Unable or unwilling to relate their own experiences these sailors of the destroyed schooner tell how Capt. Granzow elected to remain aboard the doomed vessel while the only remaining hope of surviving the wreck was made by five others in a small lifeboat.”
“But while Capt. Granzow with other volunteers remained aboard the vessel as the water rose about her hulk he ordered his two sons into the lifeboat which he placed in command of his first mate, Henry Anderson, while they attempted a landing on the only promontory not washed by the ocean’s waves.” (All were saved)
In October of 2005, the Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center’s Coral Reef Ecosystem Division reported a potential shipwreck site to NOAA’s Maritime Heritage Program after spotting anchors and scattered rigging at French Frigate Shoals.
In 2007, a team of NOAA maritime archaeologists were able to begin to investigate the site. The 2007 survey uncovered clues that may help solve the mystery of the unidentified shipwreck. Diagnostic artifacts at the site, anchors, rigging, pumps and deck equipment, all correspond to the Churchill’s size and construction.
In August of 2008, a team of NOAA maritime archaeologists returned to the site to complete documentation and interpretation of the shipwreck site. (Lots of information here is from NOAA, Oregon Historical Society and Star Bulletin, October 30 and 31, 1917)