West Coast Trail Shipwrecks
The amazingly brutal history of shipwrecks make this trail a world class hiking marvel
When shipping in and out of the Juan de Fuca strait rapidly increased in the 1800's a startling number of ships were lost. There are a few reasons. First, the west coast of Vancouver Island is a lee shore, which means that with engine failure, ships will quickly drift toward the rocky and ship shredding shore.
The second reason is far more obvious, especially to anyone that has encountered the brutally stormy winters along the west coast. The storms are so bad that even today the West Coast Trail is closed from September to May. This isn't for any bureaucratic paranoia over safety you understand. It's just too stormy. Too windy, too rainy, the horrible mud that bogs you down in the summer becomes close to impassible in the winter. It is so bad that the Tofino to Ucluelet region advertises storm watching.
The third reason is much less obvious and really quite sinister and malicious. The current. It moves north. And in stormy weather ships move north fast, very fast. So fast as to throw off navigation considerably.
Imagine you are the captain of a ship in a storm, approaching the Strait of Juan de Fuca in 1906, with your 1906 maps and navigational aids, unfamiliar with this coastline and far off course. Expecting at any moment to see the calm, sheltering waters of the Juan de Fuca strait, only to see the jagged teeth of the Vancouver Island, an instant before they rip into your ship. Your ship is 60 miles north of where you though you were. In the next few hours your ship will be pounded to death by the relentless waves.
Now, over a century later, you stumble along the beach halfway along the West Coast Trail and nearly trip over one of the anchors the Skagit left after it disintegrated in 1906.
This is why the West Coast Trail is so spectacular. Sure it is brutally challenging, wild and breathtaking at every turn. But the fact that you can stumble upon an incredible artifact of history just laying on the beach for anyone to stumble upon is just, well, fantastic. Then to sit next to it, marvel at the huge, rusting mass and think of the rest of the ship, just a few metres away, hidden under the massive, crashing waves, on another breathtaking beach.