Steamship Northerner, Centerville Beach, CA

Oct 6


My favorite Lost at Sea memorials are the ones found off the beaten track. Centerville Beach is located north of Cape Mendocino, approximately five miles west of the village of Ferndale. The beach is nine miles long, with sweeping vistas of the Pacific to the west and the redwoods to the east. On most days you’re likely to have the entire beach to yourself. On a tall bluff overlooking the beach is a tall white cross, a monument to the steamship SS Northerner, lost on January 6, 1860.

The Northerner was built in 1847 in New York City. She spent her first few years serving the east coast of the United States, but eventually moved to San Francisco, where she established a regular passenger and mail route from San Francisco to the Columbia River and north to Washington. Her last voyage from San Francisco ended when she hit a submerged rock just a few miles offshore from Centerville Beach. The ship was carrying 108 persons at the time of the wreck. 70 people were saved, mostly due to the heroic efforts of the local citizens living around Ferndale. 38 others perished. Some bodies were eventually recovered and buried on a bluff overlooking the site of the wreck. Other victims were lost to the Pacific…

In 1921 a white cross monument was built directly above the burial site of the recovered dead. The original monument was destroyed in an earthquake centered in Cape Mendocino in 1991. Local residents rebuilt the monument and it was rededicated on February 11, 1995. It serves as a stark reminder of the dangers of ocean travel – and as a memorial to lives lost at sea in this remote and most beautiful area.

















Bodega Head, California

Aug 23
Posted by Dan Filed in Uncategorized

Many of the monuments on this blog are great works of art. Others are quite simple, yet powerful in their own way. This monument is located on Bodega Head, just outside the fishing community of Bodega Bay, California. It looks west over the Pacific. At one time Bodega Bay was one of the largest salmon fishing ports in the world. It is now reduced in size, yet fishing remains a vital part of the local economy. There is seldom a year where local fishermen are not not lost at sea.

The Figurehead Memorial – Bermuda

Nov 30


The most enjoyable and satisfying aspect of writing this blog is hearing from strangers commenting on a post or directing my attention to a memorial previously unknown to me. Recently I received an email from Nadia Ming, calling my attention to the Figurehead Memorial on St. David’s Island, Bermuda. My sincere appreciation to her for all the background information for this post. All Photographs in the post are courtesy of Nadia Ming.

The memorial was originally proposed in January 2003, when two fishermen were lost at sea in rough weather. The memorial, by Bermuda artist and native Bill Ming, was dedicated on November 5, 2005 by HRH Prince Andrew, the Duke of York.

I often speculate about the thought process of the artist when writing these posts. This post is special, however, as Nadia Ming provided me with Bill’s original vision for the project.

Maquette for Memorial for Those Lost at Sea

“As an ex-seaman who worked aboard the Queen of Bermuda I felt inspired and motivated to submit my representation of the Memorial for Those Lost at Sea. The theme of maritime life is very close to my art and ideas therefore this sculpture is intended to be a work of commemoration for the known and unknown souls lost to the tides of time yet alive through our memories and chronicles. 

This memorial should honour our local fishermen/women who cast their nets and pots to scrape an existence from their catch. Bermudians lost to their loved ones as a result of storms or hurricane and the African slaves who perished during the long arduous Middle Passage.

I have tried to capture these elements, creating the spirit of a beacon that acts as a guiding and welcoming sight in times of storm and calm, a lookout for sailors who sail beyond that horizon of hope. 

The form of my sculpture takes the shape of an upturned vessel, which points to the skies and stands erect on a compass due east. Barnacles, shells and a map of Bermuda tattoo the face/mask like limpets clinging to a hulks underbelly. These would stand proud of the surface providing tactile information for people with visual impairments.

Braids of rope frame a cabinet, which houses a paddle for that proverbial creek; an hourglass with sand running out and a life preserver to keep ones head above the water. Overseeing these articles shelters an open logbook that can display the names of all ”Bermudians lost at sea,” alternatively the base could also provide space for names, which would be visually accessible for people in wheelchairs. 

I envisage that the final design could be produced in metal (possibly bronze) and/or stone, which would be sympathetic to the site and have durability.”

I believe Mr. Ming captured every element he envisioned in this beautiful memorial. The artist is pictured in the first picture below. I encourage everyone to learn more about Mr. Ming and his art at:








Nadia pointed out two very important additional elements of the memorial in her emails. The first was that The Figurehead Memorial is also part of The African Diaspora Heritage Trail (ADHT), which has been officially designated part of UNESCO Slave Route Project. Take the time to visit the ADHT website at: I think you will find yourself, like me, spending many fascinating hours learning about “the global narrative of people and culture of African descent” – and the very valuable and important effort to encourage everyone to visit these sites of historical and cultural importance and enrichment.

Information on the UNESCO Slave Route Project can be found at :









Men and women of African descent have sailed the oceans since the beginning of recorded history. The earliest known ocean voyages were from Northern Africa to Malta and Crete. During the Great Age of Sail (1600 – 1850) over 20% of all able-bodied seamen were of African descent – some were slaves, but most were free Blacks. Today they still command and crew the warships, merchant vessels, passenger ships and fishing fleets of the world – and daily face the dangers and the majesty of the open ocean.

Approximately 70 names of those lost at sea from Bermuda are engraved at the base of the memorial. All their names can be found at:

In closing this post, the poem below is inscribed in the open pages of the logbook on the memorial. The poet’s words were inspired by the book of Revelations of St. John the Divine, Chapter 10:5,6 – “And the angel whom I saw standing on the sea and upon the earth lifted up his hand to heaven. And swore by him that liveth for ever and ever, who created heaven and the things that are in it, and the earth and the things that are in it, that time should be no longer.”



“Upon the restless rolling deep

That once the mighty tempest spawned;

Now lies the racing crest asleep.

Beneath that peaceful glassy plain;

All ships and men are there interred;

And all are ‘neath that blanket lain;

Tho’ strove with main now undisturbed.

Beneath that awful silent shroud;

Beneath that fearful mocking stew;

Mingled bone and steel as one

Forever wed as silten brew.

Wreckage, war and nature’s knife;

Trophies piled are theirs to be;

But wills again ‘lasting life,

Victorious, glorious, – NO MORE THE SEA”

By the late Allan E. Doughty Sr.   1922-2013




Jan 27
Posted by Dan Filed in Uncategorized


For a variety of reasons I have been unable to update this blog for several months. To get started again I thought I’d insert a post featuring the sand sculpture art of Peter Vogelaar and David Ducharme. I came across this fascinating lost at sea sculpture while researching the rescue of three New Zealand teenagers who were lost for 50 days in the Pacific in 2010 – and who amazingly survived. You can find their story at

You should also visit a YouTube video featuring the work of artist Peter Vogelaar. It can be found by clicking the following link:




Sep 2
Posted by Dan Filed in Uncategorized

My wife and I recently returned from a trip to Newfoundland. There is probably no place on earth where the lives and fortunes of the residents have been more closely associated with the oceans – from cod fishing on the Grand Banks, to naval service in war, to oil exploration southeast of the island. The music and literature of the province are rich in the lore and history of their love and respect of the sea – from the original discoveries of the Vikings and Captain Cook, to the history and mismanagement of the cod fishing grounds, to the economic promise and environmental dangers of the offshore oil discoveries.

Every bookstore is filled with the histories of ships and their crews, with volumes devoted to ships lost at sea, to additional volumes about remarkable rescues and stories of survival. The people of Newfoundland fully embrace this history of hardship and challenge. It defines them in the same way the Amazon defines Brazil.

This post is mainly a compilation of random photographs from around the province – from monuments to discovery, to shipwreck sites (S.S. Ethie), to a beautiful memorial outside Gander constructed to the memory of 256 individuals killed in the crash of Arrow Air Flight 1285 just outside Gander on December 12, 1985. Almost every fatality, with the exception of the aircraft crew, was a member of the 101st Airborne returning from peacekeeping duty in the Middle East. The memorial was constructed by private citizens in Gander, on the exact location of the crash. The decision of the citizens to focus of the peacekeeping efforts of the 101st Airborne results in an uplifting experience for all who take the time to visit the memorial.


Navy – Merchant Marine Memorial – Washington, D.C.

May 24

I recently received an email from Paul Parsons of Darnestown, Maryland suggesting two topics for this blog. Paul’s first suggestion was the bravery and sacrifice of the Asiatic Fleet in the early months of 1942. I briefly covered a small part of that history in a May 2011 post on the HMAS Sydney II and the U.S.S Houston. The Asiatic Fleet deserves much more, however. My next post will begin to rectify that oversight.

Paul’s other suggestion was a post about the Navy – Merchant Marine Memorial in Washington, D.C. Paul noted in his email that the memorial “ beautiful, but in these times so comprehensive; the specifics of sacrifice are lost to most viewers. It’s location also diminishes its meaning or effect.” I agree with Paul’s observations, but with Memorial Day approaching it seems an appropriate time to focus on the memorial and some of the human sacrifice it represents. All photographs in this post are courtesy of Paul Parsons.

The Navy – Merchant Marine Memorial is located in Lady Bird Johnson Park on Columbia Island. It was designed in 1922 by Harvey Wiley Corbett and sculpted by Ernesto Begni del Piatta. It was dedicated on October 18, 1934 as a monument honoring the sailors and merchant seamen of the United States Navy and United States Merchant Marine who died at sea during WWI. Accurate statistics of American WWI deaths at sea are impossible to quantify, mainly due to the fact that the Merchant Marine had no historical office to compile their records. Best estimates are that somewhere between 2,000 and 7,200 American sailors and merchant seamen lost their lives in WWI. One observation can be made, however – none of the hundreds of people who guided and donated the funds required to construct this memorial in the 1930s envisioned the world a decade later. The number of lost souls this monument would honor would grow by a factor of ten by the end of 1945. The seven gulls riding the cresting waves witnessed sacrifice on the seven seas unknown to any previous generation.

The bloodbath of WWII would claim over 47,000 American lives in the war at sea. Thousands more would be wounded or captured. Over 250,000 Americans served in the Merchant Marine during WWII. About 1 in 25 who served were killed. It is estimated that perhaps as many as 1,700 American merchant ships were sunk during the war – victims of torpedoes, bombs, mines, kamikaze attacks, accidents, collisions, and weather at sea. The danger was constant, the sacrifices extraordinary. A statistic with particular meaning to me is that after the formal surrender of Japan in 1945 at least 87 merchant ships were severely damaged (42 sunk) in the ensuing five years, generally by striking mines. The war did not end for the merchant seaman in 1945 – danger and death most certainly continued. Please expand the photograph and read the inscription found on the memorial. I find these words to be most eloquent. On this Memorial Day I hope we all remember the past and present sacrifices of the Navy sailors, the Coast Guard sailors, and the merchant seamen who “have given life or still offer it in the performance of heroic deeds”. 






Seward Mariners’ Memorial – Seward, Alaska

May 2
Posted by Dan Filed in Commercial Shipping, Uncategorized

One of the most satisfying aspects of writing this blog is to hear from people around the world about existing memorials that are new to me and to learn about entirely new memorials nearing completion and dedication. Mike Glaser of the Seward Mariners’ Memorial Committee has been very kind in keeping me advised of the progress of a new memorial in Seward, Alaska that will be dedicated on May 20, 2012. This memorial has taken almost a decade of hard work to bring from concept to dedication – and another 18 months of effort will be required to complete all the aspects of the project design.

It would be difficult to imagine a more beautiful setting for a mariners’ memorial than on this site at the breakwater overlooking Resurrection Bay. The maritime history of Seward began in 1792 and continues through today – whaling, commercial fishing, recreation, and military activities are all woven into the rich fabric of the area. Through the centuries many of those mariners have been lost at sea. The Mariner’s Memorial will become a place where these souls can be remembered and honored. There are also plans to incorporate a section of the memorial in honor of the victims of the 1964 earthquake.

The best way to learn about the memorial is the visit their fine web site at Take some time to read about the design and plans for the site, view the construction project photos and videos, and learn more about several of their dedicated volunteers who made this all happen. If you know of someone who should be honored, then please consider ordering a memorial plaque for permanent display. If not, then please make a donation to this fine cause. As I’ve mentioned in this blog before, it’s not always the design and construction funding that is the most difficult to obtain. Ongoing maintenance and care can often be the larger challenge. Please consider donating to this effort.

My home in California is located a few miles from a state park that contains the home and gravesite of the writer Jack London. A museum within the park displays many of London’s original photographs and writings of his time in Alaska. I am quite certain that he once looked out upon the vistas of Resurrection Bay. In addition to writing about Alaska, London wrote one of the enduring classics of maritime life – The Sea Wolf. One of the early lines of this remarkable story concerns burial at sea and its brutal finality…

“I only remember one part of the service,” he said, “and that is ‘And the body shall be cast into the sea’. So cast it in.”

The new Mariners’ Memorial in Seward will certainly be an appropriate place to contemplate the souls lost off her wild and most beautiful shores…





The “Royal Charter” Shipwreck – Porth Alerth, Wales

Mar 16
Posted by Dan Filed in Passenger Liners, Uncategorized

Todays post is inspired by one of my favorite songs, “Isaac Lewis”, by the brilliant singer/songwriter Tom Russell.

The Royal Charter was a steam clipper built and launched in 1855. Steam clippers were a new type of ship in the mid 1800s – iron hulls, with the lines and sails of a traditional wooden clipper, but also equipped with an auxiliary steam engine which could be used when suitable wind was not available. The Royal Charter was mainly used as a passenger ship between Liverpool and Australia, a trip she could make in under 60 days. She was capable of carrying 600 passengers, with a crew exceeding 100.

In October 1859, the Royal Charter was returning to Liverpool from Melbourne. Aboard were over 370 passengers and a crew of 112. Among the passengers were many gold miners, who were carrying large amounts of gold on their persons, as well as a large consignment of gold carried as cargo. On the night of October 26 the ship was caught in a storm later to be known as the “Royal Charter Gale”. Over 200 ships were lost to this storm. The Royal Charter attempted to anchor offshore of Porth Alerth to ride out the gale, but hurricane force winds caused the anchor chains to snap. Despite cutting the masts and use of the auxiliary engine, the ship was pushed into a sandbar near shore in the early morning hours. Several hours later the rising tide and gale force winds drove her on to the rocks at a point just north of Moelfre on the north coast of Angelsey. The Royal Charter was rapidly battered to pieces by the rocks. One crew member, Maltese born Guzi Ruggier also known as Joseph Rogers, was able to swim to shore with a line. 39 passengers and crew (all men) were able to be rescued. Over 450 others died, many lost at sea.

Monuments to the lives lost on the Royal Charter can be found on the cliffs above her final resting place and in a local cemetery, where the bodies that washed ashore over the next several weeks were buried. It is said that large quantities of gold were thrown up on the beach at Porth Alerth, with many local families becoming wealthy overnight as a result of the tragedy. Many pieces of wreckage of the ship can still be found at the base of the rocks at Moelfre, visible at low tide and to scuba divers.

Stories from shipwrecks often defy imagination. Perhaps few stories are as poignant as the story of Isaac Lewis. Lewis was a young man from northern Wales who sailed to Australia and back, only to die in the Royal Charter wreck. In the last moments of his life he was able to see his father on the headland, and legend says to shout “Oh father, I have come home to die”. Three days after the storm cleared the body of Isaac Lewis washed ashore in Wales, landing less than 100 yards from his father’s front door…

You can view Tom Russell performing his haunting tribute to Lewis by visiting the following link. After that I encourage you to explore more of the work of this truly gifted musician and poet.





Porkeri, Faroe Islands, Kingdom of Denmark

Feb 26
Posted by Dan Filed in Uncategorized

Lost at Sea memorials are found along the coasts of every nation on earth where the oceans batter their shores. One of the joys of writing this blog is the discovery of a memorial in a place new to me. Such was the experience with this post.

Porkeri is a village in the Faroe Islands, a self-governing territory within the Kingdom of Denmark. It is located where the Norwegian Sea meets the greater North Atlantic, approximately equal distance from Scotland and Greenland.

The village of Porkeri dates back to at least the 14th century. Today it has a population of slightly over 300. The local church dates from 1847  and is greatly constructed from material donated by seamen who survived lethal storms on the sea – a tradition known as almissu, to donate to God if they got home alive. It makes me think of the words of Joseph Conrad from “Youth”:

“I see it always from a small boat – not a light, not a stir, not a sound. We conversed in low whispers, as if afraid to wake up the land…. It is all in that moment when I opened my young eyes on it. I came upon it from a tussle with the sea.”

The Lost at Sea memorial in Porkeri contains the names of 65 local seamen who were lost forever to the cold waters of the North Atlantic. The first name dates from 1808. Names have been added in the ensuing two centuries. No doubt more names will be added in the decades and centuries to come – and one has to wonder about the countless unknown souls lost in the centuries before the first record was retained permanently from 1808…


Marie Memorial – Santa Barbara, CA

Nov 28
Posted by Dan Filed in Uncategorized

The best part of writing this blog is discovering a memorial new to me that was conceived and brought to reality by the family and friends of those lost at sea. The memorial to the research vessel Marie is such a piece.

In 1960 the research vessel Marie was lost in the Santa Barbara Channel, while conducting experiments on the potential use of underwater infrared technology. Three of the seven men aboard the craft were claimed forever by the Pacific Ocean. The bodies of the other four crew members were recovered within a few weeks of the accident in the waters near Santa Barbara. Forty years later a memorial to the Marie and her crew was dedicated at a site very near where the Marie departed on her final journey.

The story of the Marie, her crew, and the memorial is best learned by visiting the web site devoted to this accident. Please take the time to watch the twenty minute video history that you’ll find when you first visit the site. Please use the link below:

I find the memorial to be simple, elegant and memorable. The very conscious decision not to list the Marie crew members on the memorial, but instead to dedicate the memorial to all those lost at sea, only adds to its timeless quality…