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Link to Web site for Wicked Portland: The Wild and Lusty Underworld of a Frontier Seaport Town z


This 47-second YouTube video by the Susan Reiman Group (an escrow consulting firm) shows the scene of the shipwreck. Near where the photographer is standing, a piece of iron pipe still sticks out of the ground, likely also part of the ship.


Don Kotts, a marine artist and licensed ship skipper from Poulsbo, Wash. (click here for info about him), has painted a picture of the J.Marhoffer as it would have looked under way.


A detailed article in Oregon Coast Today by Niki Price gives more information about the wreck and includes some photos of what remains, including a picture of the old boiler itself.


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Boiler Bay named for spectacular fiery 1910 shipwreck

Lit up from stem to stern like a torch, the wooden steam schooner J.Marhoffer slammed into the rocks after its crew pointed it landward and abandoned ship; its rusty boiler is still visible at low tide.

An image of Boiler Bay from a postcard dating from roughly the 1940s
The steam schooner J. Marhoffer under way with a big deckload, shortly
after the ship was built. Note how very little freeboard there is. (Image:
Superior Publishing, "Pacific Lumber Ships.")

Just north of the picturesque little Central Coast town of Depoe Bay is a place called Boiler Bay. It’s named after what remains of one of the most spectacular shipwrecks in American history.

A brand-new schooner

The J. Marhoffer was a 175-foot, 600-ton steam schooner built at John Lindstrom’s shipyard in Aberdeen, in Washington's Grays Harbor, in 1907. On May 18, 1910, she was still practically brand-new and was coming back to her home port in Portland from a run to San Francisco when an assistant engineer, working on a gasoline-burning blowtorch, accidentally overpressurized it and blew the thing up.

Fire in the engine room!

This likely would have been far less of a problem had the J. Marhoffer been an older coal-powered ship. She was not — she ran on oil, and the engine room contained enough of it spattered on the walls that by the time the badly burned assistant engineer recovered his wits, the whole place was on fire.

An image of Boiler Bay from a postcard dating from roughly the 1940s
This image of Boiler Bay comes from a picture postcard from roughly
the late 1940s. In this picture, the tide is too high to see or reach the

Captain Gustave Peterson asked someone to open the valves and flood the engine room. But by then, the heat of the fire had made the valve handles too hot to touch, and the fire had spread. Nor could the engineer get into the engine room to shut the power off. The ship was still steaming along at a steady nine knots and there was nothing anyone could do about it.

Abandon ship!

Peterson got her pointed at the shore, three miles off, and gave the order to abandon ship. Clambering into a lifeboat and paddling away is something that’s hard enough to do when the ship isn’t humming along at full cruising speed, and being as a really hot fire was still blazing merrily belowdecks, the Marhoffer must have been warming up like a woodstove on a frosty morning. Still, the crew — and the captain’s wife, who was also aboard — got away from the ship safely and retrieved the ship’s dog, which had been tossed overboard before the lifeboat was lowered.

An image of Boiler Bay from a postcard dating from roughly the 1940s
Boiler Bay as it appears on a sunny summer afternoon in 2013, viewed
from next to the chunk of steel embedded in the bluff by the force of the
explosion of the ship. (Image: F.J.D. John)

The boats made for Fogarty Creek, but a resident there was signaling to them using a red sweater. Interpreting this as a danger signal (it wasn’t intended as one), the boats turned away and headed south, past Depoe Bay, and tried to come in at Whale Cove. There, one of them capsized in the surf, and the injured cook was drowned while the other crew members swam to shore. This was the only casualty of the wreck.

Piling onto the rocks

As for the J. Marhoffer, the ship — now thoroughly and spectacularly on fire — was steaming straight toward the rocks. Word had spread around the town of Depoe Bay, and residents had come flocking to the top of the bluff to watch. Still under full power and trailing a column of smoke and fire like a volcano, the freighter piled into the rocks with an enormous crash.

An image of Boiler Bay from a postcard dating from roughly the 1940s
This piece of rusted steel sticks up about six feet out of the bluff above
Boiler Bay. It almost certainly is a chunk of the Marhoffer that was blown
high into the air by the explosion of the ship and came down in this spot,
wedging itself firmly into the ground. (Image: F.J.D. John)

The stranded vessel keeled over and burned fiercely for a time; then she was ripped apart by a massive steam explosion that threw chunks of wood and iron in all directions. Fortunately, none of the spectators were hit, although today there’s still a piece of iron pipe sticking out of the bluff above that probably came from the wreck.

What remains

Today, the ship’s boiler can still be seen from the highway at low tide. It can even be reached via a rough trail leading down from Highway 101 just north of the entrance to Boiler Bay State Park when conditions are right and the tide is extremely low — although the spot is, at all other times, utterly inaccessible to anyone lacking the skills and equipment of a Navy SEAL. It’s because of this rusty remnant that the little bay, formerly known as Briggs Landing, is now called Boiler Bay.

(Sources: Price, Niki. “The Remains to be Seen,” Oregon Coast Today. Lincoln City: Oread Media, 1/14/2009; Sullivan, William L. Hiking Oregon’s History. Eugene: Navillus Press, 2006; The Marine Review. Cleveland: Penton Publishing, 5/9/1907)