Princess May


Amazing Grounding

The Amazing Princess May Fiasco

By James Donahue

There is an old photograph making the rounds on the Internet that shows a large ship sitting on the rocks, completely out of water, and tilted at an extreme slant with its bow high in the air.

That ship was the steamer Princess May, hard aground on Sentinel Island, Alaska, in August, 1910. She was part of a fleet of passenger and freight haulers operated by the Canadian Pacific Railroad Company along the West Coast of North America at about the turn of the century.

The Princess May was built in 1888 in Newcastle, England. She measured 249 feet in length so was a formidable sized vessel when you consider what happened to it. As the story is told, she stranded on the island’s rocky outcrop on August 5, 1910, within full view of the lighthouse on the island. She was steaming at full speed in the early morning in heavy fog, southbound from Skagway, Alaska, when the accident happened.

The lifeboats were lowered and some 80 passengers and the 68-member were safely evacuated to the island. It was said that the ship also was carrying gold, which also was taken ashore for safe keeping. Then the tide went out and the ship was left high and dry, as it appears in the classic picture snapped by W. H. Case.

Believe it or not, the Princess May was salvaged about a month later by Captain W. H. Logan and his salvage tug Santa Cruz, from Seattle. Logan managed to get the steamer lighted and re-floated during high tide, which seems to be extreme in that part of the world. That the ship’s keel wasn’t broken in that extreme position for such a length of time speaks well for the quality of workmanship that went into the construction of that particular ship.

Most of the damage occurred during salvage work. While pulling the vessel back off the rocks, she took a fifty-foot long gash that was about eighteen inches wide in her hull. The cost of repair was over $20,000.

The other interesting thing about this ship was that it probably had more names than any other vessel that ever sailed the high seas. The steamer was originally named the Mei Shih when it was launched. Before it came to the American coast, the ship was renamed Cass, then Arthur. After that it was renamed Cass, then Ningchow and finally the Hating before the railroad company bought it in 1901 and gave the vessel its final and infamous name.

The May remained in service for nine more years before she was sold to new owners, the Princess May Steamship Company in the Caribbean. In the end the vessel was scrapped and then scuttled off Jamaica in 1930.

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