An Anchor in Bellingham Bay

George Vancouver

Between the years of 1791 and 1794, Captain George Vancouver, a British Officer, commanded the HMS Discovery and its accompanying ships on an exploratory voyage of the Pacific Northwest.  While surveying the northern Pacific Ocean, he and his crew were the first to record the sighting of Mount St. Helens and the first to explore Puget Sound.  Following the coasts of Oregon and Washington and intending to explore every bay and outlet of the region, he sent men in smaller boats to explore the Columbia River and enter the strait of Juan de Fuca.

While the smaller vessels explored the many channels and rivers along the coast, the larger ships, including the Armed Tender of the HMS Discovery, called the Chatham, often anchored in safe harbors. On April 29, 1792, the ships entered the Straits of Juan de Fuca and anchored in the calm waters of Discovery Bay.  Utilizing the bay as a base, Vancouver and his men explored the waters of Admiralty Inlet and Hood Canal.

After several weeks, the Chatham began to sail north across the Straits of Juan de Fuca to explore the San Juan and Lopez Islands.  After successfully doing so, the Chatham sailed southward in May to rejoin the HMS Discovery and continue their explorations south.

The explorations continued as far as Commencement Bay in Tacoma, before turning around and returning north, where the waters were safer.  Arriving at Puget Sound, they found a storm raging with severe currents and tides.  Crossing an unknown channel, the Chatham was caught by a flood tide and swept helpless. To slow her progress, her stream anchor was dropped but the strain was too much and the cable snapped. However, the Chatham survived and after sweeping the waters unsuccessfully for the anchor, the ship rejoined the HMS Discovery.

HMS Discovery

Vancouver would write in his journal on June 9, 1792:

“We found tides here extremely rapid, and on the 9th in endeavoring to get around a point to the Bellingham Bay we were swept leeward of it with great impetuosity. We let go the anchor in 20 fathoms but in bringing it up such was the force of the tide that we parted the cable. At slack water we swept for the anchor but could not get it. After several fruitless attempts, we were at last obliged to leave it.”

For treasure hunting divers, the anchor would be a great find..and indeed it was. In 2008, Anchor Ventures, LLC of Seattle decided that instead of searching the Channel, they would search off Whidbey Island’s northwestern shore. Their bet that the Chatham wasn’t with the Discovery at the time of the storm paid off. Anchor Ventures pulled up what they believe to be the long lost anchor. It was finally pulled up in 2014, and the team has been trying to prove its identity since. Skeptics say not so fast, this anchor is heavier than those of the late 1700s.

Is the anchor still there? The search continues for the doubters of the 2008 find.

© Kathy Weiser/Legends of America, updated September 2018.

Also See: 

Treasure Tales of Washington

Lost Treasure Tales

Washington State Legends