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"Firsts" & "Worsts" in Yukon & Alaska Shipping

by Murray Lundberg

Dateline: March 2, 2001.

First use of kayaks or baidarkas:
    - evidence found in the Aleutians suggests their use approximately 3,700 years B.P.

First permanent European settlement in Alaska:
    - Russian traders under Gregorii Shelikof brought by the ThreeSaints, 1784.

First British trader on the Alaskan coast:
    - the Sea Otter, in command of Captain James Hanna, 1785.

First American traders on the Alaskan coast:
    - the Columbia, in command of Captain John Kendrick, and the Lady Washington, in command of Captain Robert Gray, 1785.

First whaler into the Bering Sea:
    - the barkentine Superior, Captain Thomas Roys, July 23, 1848.

First steamer built in Alaska:
    - the 65-foot sidewheeler Baranof, built in 1862 by officers of the Russian-America Company.

First steamer to operate on the Stikine River:
    - the 93-foot sternwheeler Flying Dutchman, taken up by Captain William Moore in 1862.

First seal hunting ship in the Bering Sea:
    - the schooner Pioneer, 1868.

First commercial steamer service on the Yukon River:
    - the Alaska Commercial Company's 49-foot sternwheeler Yukon (or Youkon), left St. Michael July 7, 1869.

Worst loss of ships at one time:
    - of the 41 whaling ships hunting in the Bering Sea in September 1871, 32 were trapped by early ice; all of the 1,200 people on the ships escaped, but 31 of the ships were destroyed the following spring.

First steamship built for whaling in the western Arctic:
    - the Mary and Helen, built by William Lewis in 1879. She was so successful that the catch in her first season (1880) paid back her investors in full - this probably also makes her the most successful ship in Alaska history.

First Canadian ship to join the Bering Sea seal hunt:
    - the schooner Mary Ellen, 1884.

First ships seized by the United States in the Bering Sea "seal war", initiated by the Alaska Commercial Company:
    - the Thornton, Onward and Caroline, 1886.

First whalers in the western Canadian Arctic:
    - the Pacific Steam Whaling Company schooners Grampus and the Mary D. Hume, arrived at Herschel Island August 20, 1890.

First steamer on the Yukon River above Fortymile:
    - the Alaska Commercial Company's 125-foot sternwheeler Arctic, 1892.

First steamer on the upper Yukon, and first through Miles Canyon:
    - the 27-foot propeller launch Witch Hazel, spring 1895.

First Klondike gold to leave Dawson by steamer:
    - the Alaska Commercal Company sternwheeler Alice, June 1897 (the 175-foot Portus B. Weare followed 2 days later).

First Klondike gold to arrive Outside:
    - the Excelsior arrived at San Francisco July 16, 1897. The 191-foot Portland arrived at Seattle July 17.

First British ship to sail for the Klondike from a British Columbia port:
    - the 120-foot Capilano I, July 22, 1897.

First sternwheeler on the upper Yukon River and first sternwheeler through Miles Canyon:
    - the 37-foot Kalamazoo, launched June 4, 1898, through Miles Canyon June 8, 1898. (the 35-foot Bellingham, which usually gets credit as the first, followed on June 5 and ca. June 9).

First steamer to reach the head of the Macmillan River:
    - the Stewart River Navigation Company's 111-foot sternwheeler Prospector, ca. 1903.

Worst accident on inland waters:
    - the British Yukon Navigation Company's 146-foot sternwheeler Columbian exploded at Eagle Rock, upriver from Carmacks, on September 25, 1906. A crew member hunting ducks slipped, and his shotgun discharged into a large load of explosives on the deck. No passengers were being carried, so only six men were killed.

First tourist excursion from Whitehorse to Fort Yukon to see the Midnight Sun:
    - the British Yukon Navigation Company sternwheelers White Horse (167 feet) and Casca (No.2) (161 feet), June 19, 1916.

Worst maritime disaster in terms of human lives lost:
    - the Princess Sophia, lost with 343 people at Vanderbilt Reef, October 25, 1918. Captain Locke had refused offers to take his passengers off, and the ship slipped off the rock during a wild storm in the middle of the night.

First ship to sail the Northwest Passage in both directions:
    - the Royal Canadian Mounted Police patrol boat St. Roch, in command of Captain Henry A. Larsen. She returned to Vancouver on October 16, 1944.

Worst maritime disaster in financial terms (pre-1989):
    - the Canadian Pacific's 350-foot liner Princess Kathleen, valued at $4,000,000, wrecked at Lena Point, 17 miles north of Juneau, September 7, 1952. No lives were lost.

First marine terminal in Alaska built for oil tankers:
    - opened at Nikiski, on Cook Inlet, October 10, 1961. In November, the Standard Oil tanker W. H. Berg became the first ship to load there.

Worst maritime disaster in environmental and financial terms:
    - the Exxon Valdez, which spilled 11,000,000 gallons of oil into Prince William Sound after hitting Bligh Island Reeef on March 24, 1989. As many as 5,500 sea otters and 390,000 birds may have been killed.

References & Further Reading:
  • John R. Bockstoce - Whales Ice & Men: The History of Whaling the the Western Arctic (Seattle: University of Washington, 1995)
  • Jim Gibbs - Disaster Log of Ships: A Pictorial Account of Shipwrecks, California to Alaska (Seattle: Superior, 1971)
  • David W. Zimmerly - Qajaq: Kayaks of Siberia and Alaska (Juneau, AK: Division of State Museums, 1986)

©2001-2024 Murray Lundberg: Use for other than research purposes must be approved by the author.