China Cove, Coronation Island

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China Cove, Coronation Island

by | Jan 17, 2020

China Cove is a small embayment, about 1.7 miles (2.7 km) wide, on the southeast coast of Coronation Island, located between Chatham and Sumner Straits, 93 miles (150 km) south-southeast of Sitka and 106 miles (171 km) northwest of Ketchikan, Alaska. Coronation Island is about 7 miles (11 km) off the southern tip of Kuiu Island and is about 10 miles (16 km) long. The island was named by Captain George Vancouver, of the Royal Navy, on September 22, 1793, in honor of the anniversary of the coronation of King George III. China Cove was named by the commander of U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey steamer Hodgson in 1960 to commemorate the 111 lives lost in 1908 on the Star of Bengal.

Star of Bengal was part of the Alaska Packers “Star” cannery fleet that carried workers, fuel, and supplies north to Southeast Alaska from San Francisco, and at the end of the fishing season returned south. On September 20, 1908, the ship was loaded with 52,000 cases of canned Alaska salmon, hundreds of empty steel oil drums, and more than 100 passengers for the return voyage south. Star of Bengal had no auxiliary engine and had to be towed to open water in the Gulf of Alaska before her sails could be raised. Assigned to the task were two small steam-powered vessels, Kayak and Hattie Gage.

The flotilla immediately encountered heavy weather at the south end of Sumner Strait, and conditions worsened into a full-blown gale. After one of the tow vessels ran into trouble, the much larger Star of Bengal began dragging both towboats backwards toward breakers crashing over the rocky shore of Coronation Island. The towboat captains made the life or death decision to cut loose their towing hawsers, and Star of Bengal was carried helplessly into shallow water and broke apart in the crashing surf. At least 111 men were killed, most of them Chinese cannery workers who were huddled in terror below decks when the ship broke into three sections. Read more here and here. Explore more of China Cove here:

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