There have been shipwrecks in the Pacific Ocean for centuries. Some have had disastrous endings. Other times the people in nearby ships or dwellings saved crew and passengers. SS Princess Kathleen is an example of the latter. Owned by Canadian Pacific Steamship, this vessel served communities in Washington, British Columbia and Alaska from 1925 to 1952. SS Princess Kathleen also assisted troops in WWII.
The Princess Kathleen left Vancouver on its last run of the season. With a few miscalculated decisions from the bridge, the radar not being on and the vessel being hit by heavy rainfall and high winds, navigation proved difficult. On September 7, 1952, at around 3:00 a.m. at Point Lena, only 18 miles from Juneau, the vessel went aground at low tide.
Chief Officer Savage sent out an SOS, but it was sent on the wrong frequency. It was two hours before the United States Coast Guard (USCG) became aware a Canadian ship had been grounded on their shores. At 5:30 a.m., Captain Graham O. Hughes ordered passengers to abandon ship.
To keep themselves warm until the USCG arrived, the passengers that went ashore worked together to build campfires. Eventually this group would have to bushwhack to a nearby road, where buses were waiting to take them to Juneau. For the 150 remaining passengers on board, the US rescue cutter made two successful evacuations. By 9:00 a.m, all 425 passengers and crew were saved.
When the tide rose, the Princess Kathleen slid into deep water, but the extensive damage kept the bow aground and the stern swamped. Lawsuits from passengers and crew against Canadian Pacific Steamships began shortly after.
With the location of the shipwreck close to Juneau, and land, the site quickly became popular for divers. In the early 2000s, the Vancouver Maritime Museum was gifted the bow letters from SS Princess Kathleen. They are part of our permanent collection. More artifacts and archival material from SS Princess Kathleen can be found at www.vmmcollections.com
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