NORTH COVE, Wash. — Washaway Beach, the infamous area between North Cove and Tokeland where erosion has caused houses to tumble into the ocean, now has a second reason for fame. Coastal storms in late December and early January have unearthed remnants of a shipwreck.
A large wooden piece, measuring close to 100 feet in length, contains dozens of iron spikes jutting out of the sand, just south of Warrenton Cannery Road.
"When I heard about it, I hightailed it down fast and took a look," said Don Pickinpaugh, who owns property nearby.
Pickinpaugh is one of dozens of people over the past several days who have examined the find. Based on its location, it likely part of the freighter Canadian Exporter, which wrecked at the mouth of Willapa Harbor in August 1921, according to Rex Martin, executive director of the Westport Maritime Museum.
Fog caused the Exporter, bound for Portland from Vancouver, B.C., to miss the entrance to Willapa Harbor. The vessel ended up on the beach, according to the book, "Pacific Graveyard" by James A. Gibbs. Salvage efforts failed, and the freighter eventually split in two, according to Gibbs' book.
The book also said H.R. McMillan and Percy Sills, two men from Vancouver, B.C., purchased the rights to the wreck from underwriters for $2,000. But as time passed, the position of the wreck grew more dangerous. The men made arrangements with Hugh Delanty, a prominent Grays Harbor stevedoring executive, to salvage equipment and machinery. As weather worsened, the Coast Guard placed restrictions on the wreckage and by October it had to be abandoned.
McMillan and Sills spent more than $20,000 trying to salvage the wreckage, so they sold the lumber and machinery for $17,500 and were left with a $4,500 deficit, along with rights to the wreck, Gibbs reported.
What to do with the wreck it is a complicated matter, Martin said. First, officials have to determine whether it is on public or privately owned land. Additionally, officials have to figure out if anyone has any legal ownership rights under maritime law. Martin said only the legal owners can decide whether to excavate it.
Furthermore, Martin said it appears the only way the wreckage can be dug up is by backhoe, and it likely can't be salvaged in one piece.
Martin said if the wreckage is on public land, the museum would likely have to petition a state agency for permission to acquire it.
Given the problems and uncertainties, the artifact may stay put or be washed out to sea.
"It might end up being one of those casualties of the high seas," Martin said.
Bruce Walker, assessor for Pacific County, said Washaway Beach erodes much faster that other parts of the South Beach area, making it more difficult to determine land ownership boundaries.
"Where the ocean is now is where the beach used to be," Walker said. He added that Pacific County officials are sending public works employees to the site with a global positioning system to get accurate coordinates to determine ownership.
Dann Sears, executive director of the Aberdeen Museum of History, said he has contacted the state Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation and to get someone to examine the wreckage, or at least prevent theft.
"I sure hope people don't damage it and start carting off with things."
Walker says the area has treacherous terrain, and he once almost got trapped there. He said county officials will be placing more cautionary signs in the area, now that more people are coming to the area to check out the wreckage. Walker said he doesn't walk down to the area unless the weather conditions are good and the tide is extremely low. He said anyone who does will be going at their own risk.
"It's a dangerous area on the beach."
Risky or not, more than a dozen beachgoers descended on the site to take photos Thursday morning. Some who gathered seemed less concerned about the find's historical significance than with the hazards it might pose for visitors.
"There was a whole slug of people here the other day," said Bruce Klanke, who was vacationing in the area from Hood Canal.
"But the question now is what do we do with it? Do we sink it? Do we burn it? Blow it up? It could wash out to sea and be hard on navigation."
Roberta Starkey of North Cove stood in front of the wreckage snapping photos with her husband, David Young. She said the beach is practically deserted in the winter, but the wreckage is attracting more curious tourists.
"Maybe they're trying to see if there's a treasure chest," she joked.