March 14, 2006
Shipwreck Emerges Off Washington’s Coast
OCEAN SHORES, Wash. -- A ship that carried Northwest loggers and miners, housed visitors to the 1962 Seattle World's Fair and served as a charter fishing base before it was grounded in a storm is emerging from a sand dune like a ghost unearthed by a howling wind.
The once-buried hulk of the S.S. Catala was first exposed by erosion in the winter of 2002 and was further uncovered Feb. 4 by high winds and seas that rearranged beaches at Damon Point State Park, said ranger Jim Schmidt and local historians.
A dramatic shift of the sand on the Protection Island spit uncovered about 100 feet of the hull maybe 4 or 5 feet deep, Schmidt said. Hundreds of people have crunched through the sand since then to look at the shipwreck. The corroding rust is part of an evolving sculpture with sand, carved by wind and water.
The Catala still carries a lot of history, say docent Diane Beers and curator Gene Woodwick of the Ocean Shores Interpretive Center.
The 229-foot ship was launched in 1925 in Glasgow, Scotland, and carried coastal freight and passengers from Vancouver, British Columbia, to southeast Alaska, Woodwick said.
It ended its career with the Union Steamship Co. in April 1958 and was to be turned into a fish-buying ship when developers refurbished it as a floating hotel on the Seattle waterfront for World's Fair visitors. Engines were removed to make room for a theater, she said.
After the fair it was brought to Ocean Shores where it was tied up at a causeway and used by charter fishermen. Something else fishy was going on, too.
There was gambling and "there were ladies of the evening available, so it was quite a deal," said Beers.
"I don't know about that. Certainly there were wild parties in two lounges and a dining room," said Woodwick.
On New Year's Day, 1965, a storm with 70 mph winds and high seas tipped the Catala 30 degrees on its side in the sand and it could not be righted.
"Then it was looted, set on fire, partied on and written on for 20 years," Beers said.
People climbed on it, and, when a young woman injured her back and sued, a contractor was hired to cut the ship up for scrap. What couldn't be reached by cutting torches was covered with sand.
"Over the ensuing years you couldn't tell where it was," said Woodwick.
With beaches, the ocean gives and takes. Protection Island became a spit connected to land. "Now it looks like nature is reversing the process. I wouldn't be surprised if we have an island again," said Schmidt.
The emerging Catala will never float again, but it still sails in memories. People who see its picture at the interpretive center "just remember so many things," Woodwick said.
"It was a special ship, the people's ship. It was used by common people" -- loggers and fishermen, she said. "There were people who took it as an ocean cruise."
Woodwick, who "ogled it on the docks in Seattle" and is writing a book about it, is not pleased to see the Catala again, like this. It was more appealing as a buried mystery, she said.
"It's kind of sad to see more of the hulk, for me," Woodwick said. "It's kind of like seeing someone you love and they're all curled up in a rest home."