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Raincoast Chronicles 21: West Coast Wrecks and Other Maritime Tales

By Rick James

Review By David Hill-Turner

November 4, 2013

BC Studies no. 177 Spring 2013  | p. 186-87

Tales of shipwrecks along British Columbia’s coast have focused on adventure and tragedy since the fur trade era. With marine transportation occupying such an important role in our daily lives, it is remarkable that so few books have been written on the topic, especially since there are thousands of wrecks on the coast. In West Coast Wrecks, Rick James, a maritime historian and field archaeologist, has written a welcome addition to the bookshelves of wreck enthusiasts and marine historians. This book joins earlier books by veteran diver and shipwreck historian Fred Rogers, Shipwrecks of British Columbia (1973) and More Shipwrecks of British Columbia (1992) in providing basic information about our submerged maritime heritage.

While he acknowledges the works of the popular Rogers, even to including a chapter about him, James devotes twenty original chapters to a variety of maritime disasters, adventures, and events. What is most poignant is the era of transition from sail to steam. Many of the proud ocean windjammers ended their days cut down as barges for transporting logs and coal. The tale of the majestic 329-foot four-masted steel barque Drumrock, wrecked in Smith Inlet in 1928 after less than a year’s service, is an example of how a peak technology sailing vessel was converted into the largest and most technically innovative log barge on the BC coast.

The story that captured my interest involved the two smallest boats described in the book, the Chinese junks Amoy (1922) and Tai Ping (1939), whose solitary Pacific adventures contrast with the routine voyages of the larger commercial ships and remind us that it was possible that the first maritime explorers and visitors came from Asia. The book also includes the Comox Logging Company’s breakwater at Royston, which was started in 1937 from a variety of naval ships, tug boats, and sailing vessels that now served a useful purpose far beyond their builders’ expectations.

Many of the stories in the book originated as research work James authored for the Underwater Archaeology Society of BC as part of its extensive series of regional shipwreck reports. While serious historians will find satisfaction in James’s research and writing, his target reader is the avocational historian. The book offers an extensive bibliography of published, unpublished, and personal correspondence. While shipwreck books are often aimed at scuba divers, James also includes photos of these ships taken close-up from land. Finally, James reminds readers that wreck sites are protected under British Columbia’s Heritage Conservation Act. While wrecks offer many temptations to souvenir hunters, it is illegal to remove anything without a permit.

Raincoast Chronicles 21: West Coast Wrecks and Other Maritime Tales
By Rick James
Madiera Park: Harbour Publishing, 2011. 128 pages, $24.95 paper