Maritime mysteries explored in latest book by Rick James

Melanope. Geo. S. Wright. Maria J. Smith. Mermaid. King David.

Melanope. Geo. S. Wright. Maria J. Smith. Mermaid. King David.

All once sailed the mighty oceans. All came to an untimely end.

All – and more – are featured in West Coast Wrecks & Other Maritime Tales, a new book by Comox Valley maritime historian and author Rick James.

Also billed as Raincoast Chronicles 21, the tidy 132-pager gets off to a good start with a dramatic painting by Peter Rindlisbacher depicting the sinking of the steamship Geo. S. Wright.

Inside, James recounts how the discovery of wreckage at Cape Caution in January 1873 sparked lurid accounts in U.S. newspapers of the crew being massacred by fierce Indians, and female passengers held as slaves.

With meticulous research borne of passion for the subject matter, James goes on to describe the 10-year history of the doomed ship and how it really met its doom.

James depicts the life and death of a number of vessels along the B.C. coast, which the author calls “one of the most treacherous stretches of coastline anywhere on the planet.”

He describes some colourful coastal characters such as “B.C.’s wreck diver emeritus” Fred Rogers.

James also resolves maritime mysteries such as how a parking lot in Comox came to be home to the anchor of the windjammer King David and how Wreck Beach in Vancouver got its name.

More than just a recitation of how ships were wrecked along the B.C. coast, West Coast Wrecks & Other Maritime Tales also explores the building of wooden ships that fuelled Victoria’s economy during the latter part of the First World War and the unexpected landfall of Chinese junks.

Throughout, the colourful and readable text is assisted by an impressive number of graphics, including paintings, maps and photographs, some taken by James.

He also draws from the Underwater Archaeological Society of BC, museums and private collections.

In the forward, James explains how more than 20 years researching the many shipwrecks off the B.C. coast began with his fascination about the Comox Logging & Railway Company’s old hulk breakwater at Royston.

He has since authored and co-authored multiple books and articles about shipwrecks. You might recognize him from the Sea Hunters, a TV documentary series in which he played a role in the episode Malahat: Queen of the Rum Runners. James has no shortage of tales about fascinating and often-tragic events in the waters of the Pacific Northwest.

Presented by the Laughing Oyster Bookshop and Harbour Publishing, James will unveil the new book Oct. 20 at 6:30 p.m. at the Courtenay public library. Admission is free, thanks in part to support from the Canada Council for the Arts.

James will give a talk and slide show. Books will be sold by the Laughing Oyster Book Shop. Phone the library at 250-334-3369 or go to for more information.

The book has been on the Vancouver Sun’s B.C. bestseller list for at least two weeks, says James’ “mentor and in-house editor” Paula Wild, the arts and entertainment writer for the Comox Valley Record.

So far, his publicity tour includes Vancouver, Seattle, Victoria, Parksville, Tofino, Courtenay, Campbell River and various locations on the North Island, she adds.

* * *

The Underwater Archaeological Society of BC is issuing a second print run of Ghost Ships of Royston, which James hopes will be available in local bookstores before Christmas.

Otherwise, it can be purchased by visiting and going to the Publications link.

The first print (2004) run sold out reasonably fast primarily to interest in the Comox Valley, James adds.


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