Helene

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Helene (#96325)(1896-1898), 34.2-foot wood-hulled sloop used as a passenger vessel and later as a guano carrier in 1898. Three years after she was launched, Helene was wrecked in Forney's Cove on December 8, 1898 in a strong northeaster. According to local news reports, Captain Rosaline Vasquez and Helene were hauling two tons of guano collected at San Miguel Island when they were caught in gale-force winds. Helene parted her anchor chain, and eventually made it to Santa Cruz Island where she wrecked near a Chinese camp. Captain Burtis rescued her crew on the schooner, Santa Rosa.



In the News~

June 15, 1896 [SBDI]: “The sloop Helene anchored off the wharf is receiving her finishing touches and will be ready for her trial trip this week.”


July 8, 1896 [SBDN]: “The sloop Helene, the beautiful new boat just completed by Mr. Axtell, is now prepared to take parties to and from the islands on trips in and about the channel. This splendid boat is very nicely fitted up, and is fleet, safe and comfortable. She has all the modern improvements, with a full supply of regulation life preservers. She is handled by competent and very careful men, guaranteeing a very delightful trip to all who care for pleasures of a sail or cruise. Private excursionists leave orders at P. L. Moore's cigar store near the Post Office.”


July 18, 1896 [SBDN]: “Yacht Helene. It was our privilege a few days ago to test the sailing qualities of the new yacht Helene which has just been placed in our harbor by J. D. Axtell. The Helene was built at Miramar by Mr. Ellison… The yacht is 41-1/2 feet in length, 12-1/2 feet beam, and draws 4-1/2 feet… Helene is equipped with all modern improvements and fitted out for service in all that money and skill could do for a yacht of her size… The Helene sails under Captain Julius, a tried and skilled sailor. The boat could well carry a party of 25 or more with perfect ease and safety.”


July 20, 1896 [SBDN]: “The Helene leaves this evening for San Miguel Island to bring back a party of surveyors.”


July 24, 1896 [SBDN]: “The party of people who went over to San Miguel Island and returned recently speak in the highest of terms of the fine performance by the sloop Helene. The boat, as is recalled, was built by Mr. Ellison, a ship builder from the wrecked Goldenhorn and is pronounced one of the most perfect models of beauty and convenience that floats. It has a full compliment of all the improvements, is a fast sailor, and has very little of the disagreeable features found in such crafts. The Helene is the property of J. D. Axtell, formerly superintendent of the County Hospital.”


August 15, 1896 [LAT/SB]: “Mr. Axtell’s new yacht, Helene, recently launched in the channel, was booked to sail under the guidance of Captain Julius Duritz and a man named Julius Bartel on Tuesday last for Guadalupe Island, but is still anchored in the channel, owing to the fact that O. Ellison who came to this coast as ship carpenter on the Goldenhorn, and has spent the last year constructing the Helene, has a bill for unpaid wages which he holds against the boat, amounting to some $500, although he has offered to settle for $300. He says he has received but very little money for his work the past year, and was only enabled to complete the boat by allowing his wife to take in washing and ironing. Mr. Ellison was advised not to let the Helene go to the island ‘to carry goat skins,’ and accordingly he forbade her leaving until he is paid. The boat is now for sale and somebody will capture a prize. She is 51 feet 6 inches over all, with a 12-foot 6-inch beam. She has a splendid cabin, fitted with twelve berths below. She has all double planking; is perfectly seaworthy, and a good sailor, having scored eight knots. Her cargo capacity is 15.31 tons, and she is by far the neatest little boat in the channel.”


September 6, 1896 [LAT/SB]: “Yachting is rapidly coming to the front as a sport in Santa Barbara and the most admired of all the current craft now afloat in the channel waters is the Helene, recently launched at Miramar by her owner, Mr. Axtell. She is now moored near Stearn’s Wharf and makes daily voyages about the coast and to the islands. It is the universal verdict of all good judges that she is the best all-around pleasure boat of her size on the coast. She is 42-feet over all, with 12-1/2 feet beam. She has a tonnage of 15 31-100, and her registration number is 96,325. Her frame is of 4x4 timbers, 15 inches apart, and is double planked throughout. She has 650 feet of mainsail and is cutter-rigged, with 6-1/2 tons ballast. Her standard rigging is of steel cable and her upper deck has bronze furnishings. Her 8x14 cabin is a floating palace, with double berths on either side. There are also two large berths in the forecastle. The closets are equal to those of the finest steamers. It is to be hoped that this model pleasure boat will remain in the channel, although it is offered for sale and is liable to go to the southern coast.”


January 8, 1897 [LAT/SD]: “Sloop Helene has arrived from Mexico with abalone shells.”


August 14, 1898 [LAT/SB]: “The sloop Helene, Captain Vasquez, arrived from San Miguel Island yesterday with a cargo of sheep.”


December 13, 1898 [SBMP]: “The yacht Helene, built a few years ago by J. D. Axtell and owned by Edwards & Company, is a total wreck in Forney's Cove on Santa Cruz Island. Captain Ramon Vasquez, who was in command, is seriously ill at his home on lower De La Vina Street, the result of the drenching received in escaping to the shore, and the exposure in the cold during the following day and night. The rest of the party escaped with their lives and the clothes upon their backs, but nothing else. The story of the wreck can best be told by Captain Rosaline Vasquez, son of Captain Vasquez, who was with the Helene when she was driven ashore. Rosaline has been the survivor of three wrecks in the Santa Barbara Channel, but has always escaped unhurt…”


December 13, 1898 [LAT/SB]: “The schooner Santa Rosa came into port late last night bring with her six shipwrecked men from the schooner Helene. These men tell a fearful tale of exposure that they had to endure for two days on a rock off Santa Cruz Island. Thursday night while near the island in pursuit of live seals, the schooner Helene encountered a very heavy southeaster. She attempted to find in shelter from Forney’s Cove on the west end of Santa Cruz Island, and anchored just outside this cove. A northeast wind came up soon and so suddenly that it was impossible for them to get out… The vessel dragged her anchors for some distance, and about midnight struck a low reef… Late the next afternoon the tide had gone down so low that it was possible to wade a considerable distance, and by swimming a short distance they reached the main island. There they found an old Chinese cabin with some provisions, which they used. Saturday afternoon, the large schooner Santa Rosa, which had left Santa Barbara port a few days before to go to sea in order to avoid the southeaster, was crossing the channel, and being three or four miles from the wreck, sighted several men on the island who apparently were in distress… The six men on the vessel were Ramon Vasquez, Joseph Leva, Colice Vasquez, Joe Cota and Charles Shout… The Helene was a comparatively new boat, having been in the channel about four years… She has been employed catching live seals for the Rogers Brothers…”


December 13, 1898 [SFCall]: “Wave-swept channel rock their haven. Horrible suffering of shipwrecked men. Loss of schooner Helene. Strikes a reef off Santa Cruz Island. Crew of six gains the shore by swimming, after a night spent on a rock washed by the breakers. The schooner Santa Rosa came into port last night bringing six shipwrecked men fro the schooner Helene. These men tell a thrilling tale of their experience after having been shipwrecked off Santa Cruz Island on Thursday evening. While on the east side of Santa Cruz they encountered a southeaster and a very heavy sea. They immediately made for the west end of the island, which is protected from a southeast wind. They anchored off Forney's Cove, at the extreme end of the island, and had lain there three or four hours when a northeaster began blowing down the channel between Santa Rosa and Santa Cruz islands. Three anchors were immediately thrown out, but they were powerless against the heavy wind. It was useless for the crew to attempt to pull up anchor and make to sea. The vessel dragged her anchors, and at about midnight struck a low reef, which forms one side of Forney's Cove, with terrific force, knocking a large hole in her bottom. The vessel turned over on her side, and what provisions were not washed off her deck by the waves which swept over her were destroyed by the water. The six men had great difficulty in saving themselves from being swept off the rigging. The small skiff was unfastened, but as soon as put into the water was capsized. Its oars were thus lost. Finally the crew succeeded in righting it, and fastened one end of a rope to the boat and the other end to the wrecked Helene. They all got in and set the skiff adrift, hoping it would be blown to a small rock about 100 yards from the wreck. This hope was realized. All night long they remained on the rock in a howling wind, soaked to the skin, and the waves washing completely over them every few minutes. Late the next day the tide had lowered sufficiently for them to wade a considerable distance on the reef, and by swimming a few hundred yards they reached the mainland. They found a deserted Chinese cabin, which contained provisions. Here they remained another twenty-four hours when the schooner Santa Rosa happened to see their signal of distress. When the southeaster came up the Santa Rosa had been forced out of Santa Barbara harbor and held in the channel two or three days, seeking a safe harbor. She was within three or four miles of the west end when Captain Burtis saw the signal of distress. The wind was blowing a terrific gale at the time, and it was with great risk that an anchorage was made and the men rescued. When found they were in a sorry condition, all being chilled through and through. Ramon Vasquez, an old sea captain, was in command of the Helene. He was in a serious condition when picked up. He could neither move a muscle nor make a sound. At a late hour today the attending physician said that he could not live many hours. The other five men, although badly bruised and exhausted, are not in a serious condition. The men on the vessel were: Ramon Vasquez, Joseph Leva, Colais [sic] Vasquez, Joe Olivas, Joe Cota and Charles Thrift. The Helene was built in this city at a cost of $5000, but was never considered a seaworthy vessel. She was four years old, and was registered at fifteen tons. She was the property of Edwards & Co., local hardware men. The Helene had been catching seals alive for Rogers Bros. of this city, who trained them and sold them to Easterners.”


December 15, 1898 [SBMP]: “Captain Vasquez suffered a relapse and his recovery is now considered very doubtful. The exposure to wet and cold in Forney’s Cove after the wreck of the Helene has led to a serious condition, and now pneumonia or lung fever may follow.”