The Argonaut 1790

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The Argonaut in Clayoquot Sound, December 1790

‘…near Noon got a slant of wind, unmoor’d, weigh’d, assisted by four canoes with Indians, and one of our own to Two. A light air at this time from the N.E. On reaching the Narrow part of the Entrance of the Inner Harbour, the Ebb having more power than the wind and Canoes, the ship was drove on shore, on the W. side of the entrance. The Rocks being up and down, there was no danger provided we extricated our masts and Yards from the Trees before the tide left us and the Vessel Hung by the tide leaving her either on a Piece of the Shore Jutting out farther than the rest or on the Trees and the Vessel upset, being deep water on the off Side. Fortunately the Trees gave way, and we escaped this danger.’

From the Journal of Captain James Colnett, on board the Argonaut

Bad luck dogged Colnett and the Argonaut even after their release from a year’s detention in Mexico. Bound back to Nootka Sound, the scene of their arrest, bad weather and a leaky, damaged ship forced them to Clayoquot to make repairs. These repairs took two months, only to find a fresh set of troubles on leaving, as outlined above.

Free of the trees on Felice Island, the Argonaut met foul winds and anchored in the fairway. She struck bottom there at low tide, unshipping her rudder, then a furious gale blew up which caused further damage and nearly sank her. When conditions allowed she put back with improvised steering only to miss her anchorage and plough up on the beach. Another Month passed in heaving her off and making her seaworthy again: meanwhile Colnett lost a boat and all its crew there in January 1791, before proceeding on to China and the end of a disastrous voyage.

The Argonaut, Clayoquot Sound, 1790

Colnett Mountain overlooks Tofino on the North East.
The bad luck event described took place off Grice point on the Round (Felice ) island side of the passage. is grateful to Ken Gibson, a long-time resident of Tofino and an invaluable source of local information, for this article about Tofino and Clayoquot Sound. The water color is by Mark Myers of England, considered one of the finest historical marine artists in the world.