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And that’s when the storm unleashed its full fury. What had started out as a heavy blustering gale now ripened into one of those temperate-zone hurricane monsters that occasionally hit the Oregon Coast, ripping roofs off of barns and knocking trees down on houses. No wooden ship in the open sea could sneeze at such a storm.
The exhausted crew had to climb up into the rigging to escape the relentless walls of green water that kept sweeping across the deck. One at a time, they undertook the heroic work of manning the wheel, keeping the ship pointed upwind enough to keep from being blown ashore and trying to keep from being swept overboard by the occasional massive combers that swept over the ship.
One great wave picked a Norwegian out of the rigging — he’d picked too low a perch and his hands were likely numb with cold — and carried him screaming away into the foamy night. Another time, a huge wave caused the ship’s rudder to come clear out of the water, whereupon another wave slammed into the ship’s rudder with so much force that the great spoked wheel was torn out of the hands of the man whose turn it was to hold it — and then the wheel sucked him in like a great sawblade, cutting him nearly in half.
This went on for five days.
Finally, the ship was off the Columbia River. By then the storm had abated to a standard-issue strong wind, but the bar was still impossible. The men were exhausted and famished; they couldn’t hold out much longer; but there was no choice. The ship continued wallowing northward.
Then fate intervened again:
“About 10 a.m. on the morning of Feb. 22, the schooner’s back broke clear across under the hatch,” Capt. Keegan recounted, as quoted in Gibbs’ book. “Finding the schooner would weather Cape Disappointment, I headed her for a sandy beach in order to save the lives of the balance of the crew.”
The beach he picked was, of course, Long Beach Peninsula in southern Washington. Under the power supplied by the one remaining piece of sailcloth that hadn’t been shredded by the wind, the Frank W. Howe made her laborious way toward the beach.
Meanwhile, the ship had been spotted, and help was on the way.
“The excellent service of the government to the maritime interests of the world was never better demonstrated than yesterday morning,” the Morning Astorian’s reporter wrote in the next day’s paper. “As soon as the North Head lookout discovered the vessel on the horizon he placed himself in communication with the lifesaving crews at Long Beach, Fort Canby, Hammond and Point Adams.”
Attempts to get rescue boats across the bar did not work out; the breakers were just too ferocious. Lyle guns were lined up on the beach and tried valiantly to shoot a line out to the ship, which by this time had struck and stuck; but because it was full, the ship was riding so low in the water that it was still far out to sea, out of range of the cannons.
Finally, after several attempts to get their surfboat through the breakers, the Ilwaco crew managed to battle their way to the doomed schooner, and one by one the exhausted crew members dropped out of the rigging and into the rescuers’ boat.
“Our experience was a terrible one,” Keegan told the Astorian’s reporter after his rescue. “The death of the two poor fellows who were killed last Thursday was an awful calamity, but it was fortunate, indeed, that all of us were not killed or drowned. I never before experienced such terrible weather, and I thank God seven of us are alive to tell the tale.”