The Pacific Disaster - Oceanliners and Classic Cruise Ships Magazine

The Pacific Disaster

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One of the worst maritime disasters in US Pacific coast history occurred on 4 November 1875.

Charles A. Sawyer, Orpheus' captain, was reportedly drunk at the time of the collision.

Charles A. Sawyer, Orpheus’ captain, was reportedly drunk at the time of the collision.

The sidewheeler Pacific (1851), en route to San Francisco from Victoria, British Columbia, with approximately 275 passengers and crew on board, collided with the sailing vessel Orpheus near Cape Flattery, Washington. Both vessels managed to continue on course, but Pacific foundered within 20 minutes and only two people survived. Orpheus’ captain—Charles A. Sawyer—who may have been drunk during the incident, later testified that he was unaware of the collision.

At the time of the incident, Pacific had only three crewmen on duty: an inexperienced third mate, an inexperienced helmsman and a lone lookout. The overcrowded vessel, crammed with cargo and passengers (the exact number of people on board remains unknown), had been listing heavily to starboard, making steering difficult. To correct the list, Capt. Jefferson Davis Howell ordered two port-side lifeboats to be filled with water. Pacific was also running without port and starboard lights; only her white masthead light was visible.

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