Mystery wreck might be the Sophie Christenson

A photo shows the remains shipwreck near Knappton. The inset photo is of the Sophie Christenson, which may be the vessel in question.

KNAPPTON — A reader recently asked about a shipwreck spotted near the Quarantine Station, also known as the Knappton Cove Heritage Center.

Nancy Bell Anderson, director of the Heritage Center, who has a long history with the area, said of the mystery wreck, “We played ‘pirates’ on it when I was a kid, using the cattails that were growing in it for ‘swords.’” She referred questions to her brother, Tom Bell.

Bell said some time ago a local businessman approached him about the wreck, saying he believed it was the Sophie Christenson, a sailing ship that had once belonged to his uncle, Capt. J. E. Shields. He wanted to retrieve some of the ship as a yard ornament for a wealthy client in Santa Barbara, California, but nothing ever came of it.

Is it the Sophie Christenson? A little research reveals the four-masted schooner, built in 1901, was initially used to haul lumber, then converted to catch cod in Puget Sound. She was 180.6 feet long, had a 38.9-foot beam and a 13.4-foot deep hold, and carried a crew of 44 (http://tinyurl.com/sophiec1).

According to HistoryLink.org, after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, the schooner was commandeered by the U.S. government for barge and transport duty in the North Pacific (http://tinyurl.com/sophiec2). Sophie eventually wound up as scrap or a dismasted barge.

Local lore says the wreck in Knappton was a barge being towed downriver as salvage after the war when the towing cable broke loose and it drifted ashore. It was just left there, not considered valuable enough to bother with. So yes, it could well be the Sophie Christenson.

In the late 1980s, the trees growing in the wreck were only 8 feet tall, Bell noted they now are more like 80. Also years ago, the ribs of the ship stood 18 feet high. If you’re wondering why so little is showing now, he said a local fisherman was salvaging it over the years. He would take metal pins from the wreck, collect them in a big pile, and sell the pile once a year for liquor money. Which only proves that old adage: One man’s trash truly is another man’s treasure.

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