Background photo of the beach at Whale Cove was made by Bryce Buchanan in 2004. (Via WikiMedia Commons, cc/by/SA)
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Once on the Washington side, they worked their way down to Peacock Spit. There was the Admiral Benson, looking as if she were sinking by the stern into a sea of sand. The boys stashed their bikes, collected their bedrolls and food, and hustled down onto the beach. They intended to spend the night on the wreck.
When they got there, they found it wasn’t entirely high and dry. The ship sat in the middle of a great pool of tidewater, several hundred yards across. So the two of them hastily lashed together a makeshift raft made of driftwood, and made their way across to the hulk.
The breakers had torn a hole in the stern of the ship, and they were able to paddle right into this, as if driving a car into a garage. They carefully worked their way around a huge sheet of steel that hung from the overhead by a dangerously frail-looking sort of hinge made of thin metal — it had been an engine-room bulkhead — and tied their raft off to a metal grate. Then they climbed into the engine room and pulled their raft up high, out of reach of the incoming tide.
Then they set about exploring the derelict.
They poked around the passenger rooms a bit, climbed to the bridge, stood on the peak of the bow nearly 100 feet above the sand. They found payroll records in the captain’s desk, and learned that he was paid $300 a month for his services. Stan found a dollar pocket watch in working order. And of course they nicked a few souvenirs — bits of easily removable ship trim and so forth.
They weren’t nearly done exploring, though, when the entire ship trembled and a deafening crash was heard. The first breaker of the incoming high tide had slammed into that loose bulkhead, pounding it forward like a pendulum to smash into the next bulkhead.
Then it happened again, and the boys realized that that piece of steel was going to repeat the performance every time a wave hit the ship … all the rest of the day, and all night. Although it was early summer, the seas were running high.
The boys were, of course, now stuck on the wreck until the minus tide returned the following day. They would be on board the ship, listening to that constant racket, for a full 24 hours.
They wouldn’t get much sleep that night, up there on the tilted floor of the bridge. And after night fell they wouldn’t be able to see the great combers pounding down on the wrecked hulk. But between the impacts of the great walls of water, and the hammer blows of that huge sheet of steel below, the two of them were more than a little afraid the ship would break up under their feet that very night and they’d drown on Peacock Spit.
It didn’t, of course, and they didn’t, and the next day, their raft was still there and ready to take them back to shore. They stashed all the souvenirs they’d taken, planning to come back for them sometime when they had use of a car; climbed on their wheels; and pedaled on back home.
It was the kind of summer adventure that kids used to be able to have in Oregon, 75 years ago. Such a lark would be unthinkable today. Shipwrecks on the Oregon Coast are almost unheard-of; when they do happen, as with the New Carissa incident in 1999, state bureaucrats get very excited and start filing lawsuits, demanding instant removal. And any parent who allowed their teenage kids to pedal 100 miles to strand themselves on a wrecked ship like this would be in danger of losing custody.
Modern teenagers can only wish they could undertake an adventure like this. In almost every way, the world is a far better place today than it was in 1930. In this one way, though … arguably, it’s not.