NORTH COVE, Wash. (AP) -- Washaway Beach, the sandy area between North Cove and Tokeland that is infamous for rapid erosion that causes whole houses to tumble into the ocean, now has a second reason for fame. Coastal storms in late December and early January have unearthed the remnants of a shipwreck.
The 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 some property nearby.
Pickinpaugh is one of dozens of people over the past several days who have been coming to the beach to get a look at what may be a portion of the freighter ship, Canadian Exporter, according to Rex Martin, executive director of the Westport Maritime Museum. Martin said museum employees heard about the sighting of the piece from beachgoers and went to take pictures. Based on its location, Martin said the piece is likely part of the freighter that wrecked at the mouth of Willapa Harbor in August of 1921, while en route to Portland from Vancouver, B.C., to complete loading some lumber bound for Asia.
Fog caused the Exporter to miss the entrance to Willapa Harbor and the vessel ended up on the beach, according to the book, Pacific Graveyard by James A. Gibbs. When the fog lifted, the tug Wallula and the salvage steamer Algerine tired to move it off the beach, but were unsuccessful. The next morning, the Exporter showed signs of breaking up. Eventually, the freighter 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 had 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, according to Gibbs' book.
Identifying the ship is only the first step. What to do with it is a complicated matter, Martin said. First, officials have to determine the exact coordinates of the wreckage, and whether it is on public or privately owned land. Additionally, officials have to figure out if anyone has any legal ownership rights to the wreckage under maritime law. Martin said only the legal owners can decide whether or not to excavate it.
Furthermore, Martin said it appears the only way the wreckage can be excavated 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 the museum to acquire it.
Martin added that if the ship can't be excavated, and no one can claim ownership, the wreckage may end up staying where it is now, and eventually, get washed out to sea.
It might end up being one of those casualties of the high seas, Martin said.
Determining the location presents another set of challenges, said Bruce Walker, assessor for Pacific County. He said Washaway Beach erodes much faster that other parts of the South Beach area, making it more difficult to determine parcel 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 try and get accurate coordinates of the location to determine ownership.
Dann Sears, executive director of the Aberdeen Museum of History, said he had been in contact with the state Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation and was trying to get someone from the department to come and examine the wreckage, or at least block it off to prevent people from stealing parts of it.
I sure hope people don't damage it and start carting off with things.
The end of Warrenton Cannery Road is virtually inaccessible; cement blocks and rope have been placed at the beach approach. 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 and a gander at the wreckage Thursday morning. Tire tracks and footprints surrounded the wreckage, evidence of past looky-loos.
Some who gathered seemed more concerned about safety hazards the wreckage could create than its historical significance.
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.

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