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A shipwreck at low tide in Royston with very little of the ship remaining covered in barnacles. Part of the Royston Shipwrecks

Royston Shipwrecks

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Royston Shipwrecks | Fourteen Ships 5 Minutes From Courtenay

10 Minute Stop
10 min


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Where to this weekend, Vancouver Island: The Hidden Maritime Treasures of Royston Shipwrecks

Nestled meters from the shoreline along the Royston Seaside Trail, the Royston Shipwrecks offer a unique view of the decomposing shells of once mighty ships. Imagine a silent ghost fleet teeming with marine life, a time capsule preserving stories of a bygone era, just a stone’s throw from Courtenay!

breakwater at low tide along the Royston Seaside trail. In the distance is a shipwreck boat that is one of of the many ships from the Royston Shipwrecks and is completely out of the water

The view from shore reveals only a couple of the remaining ships, but as you start to learn the history that’s beyond the embankment, this visit becomes much more interesting.

Each of the 14 sunken ships boasts a unique narrative, from hardworking vessels of industry to valiant warships. A stop at the Royston Shipwrecks isn’t just about appreciating rusted metal and marine species; it’s also about embracing our past.

Visiting the Royston Shipwrecks

Lady in a peach coloured dress sitting on beach with the Royston Shipwrecks in the background

As soon as you reach the parking area at the end of Hilton Rd, the Royston Shipwrecks breakwater will come into view. A trail that is easy to walk and accessible for wheelchairs leads to a viewing point, allowing you to get closer to the artificial reef. At low tide, the ships become even more visible, and it is possible to get down on the beach and get a closer look.

There isn’t a lot to see from the shore, but looking out with the rusted skeleton of a once mighty ship at the end of the breakwater, you soon realize that in front of you are 14 ships that played essential roles in the past and are now lying in pieces at the ocean bottom serving the unintended role of an artificial reef. There aren’t many places in the world where you can catch a glimpse of the past in this way.

Another way to view the wrecks is by kayak or boat. On a calm day, you can get close enough to see the details of what’s left of the century-old vessels, and some have even snorkelled and dived in the area, but be aware of the dangers.

Remember that the Royston Shipwrecks are on private property and are protected under the British Columbia Heritage Conservation Act making it illegal to take any souvenirs from the ships. Be sure to respect the property owners and be safe when exploring.

Why are there Shipwrecks in Royston

Ariel photo of an old ship partially submerged in the Pacific Ocean on Vancouver IslandRoyston’s scenic shores are home to these spectral shipwrecks due to an intriguing blend of practical necessity and historical happenstance. In the early 1930s, the Comox Logging and Railway Company sought to safeguard their floating logs from the relentless southerly winds and storms.

A solution was devised to sink a series of decommissioned vessels, ranging from industrious steam-powered tugs to brave warships, creating a 540-metre breakwater to protect their precious timber.

Over time, this functional shield against the elements transformed into an underwater time capsule, with each ship telling its own fascinating tale from the 1800s. Now these rusted relics from the past not only evoke a sense of awe and nostalgia in visitors but also serve as a thriving ecosystem for a myriad of aquatic life forms.

Immerse Yourself in the Stories of Royston’s Shipwrecks

Delving into the depths of Royston’s underwater graveyard, you’ll encounter a breathtaking collection of ships with fascinating stories as to how they found their final resting place.

The list of ships that found their final resting place at Royston includes:

  • three frigates
  • two destroyers
  • two whalers
  • two three-masted Cape Horn windjammers
  • two lumber carriers
  • a steel case-oil freighter
  • three steam tugs

The Story of the Melanope

Melanope Ship
An artist rendition of the Melanope from the San Francisco Chronicle, 1888

The Melanope, one of the most compelling vessels among the Royston Shipwrecks, has a rich history that is sure to captivate any enthusiast. Launched in 1876, this majestic three-masted barque hails from an era of seafaring adventure and grandeur.

Some say she was a cursed ship right from the beginning as the men that sailed her were frightful of the curse of an old woman who was found as a castaway peddling apples as the boat was under tug on the ships maiden voyage.

As the old woman refused to leave, she was thrown over the rail onto the tugboat as she cursed the ship, the captain and the crew. Forever cursing the ship? Maybe, as the Malanope has experienced troubled times, including on its maiden voyage, the ship never made it to its first destination as it ran into a storm that caused the Melanope to be towed back dismasted and in need of major repairs.

Over its lifetime, the ship has seen troubled times

  • The ship has run aground multiple times.
  • Broadsided steamships and run-ins with other boats.
  • There have been attempted murders on board.
  • It has survived hurricanes and storms while losing masts and other major damage.
  • Narrowly survived the fire while it was at the port in San Francisco while the great fires ravaged the city.
  • All but one crew member died of yellow fever on a trip to Brazil.

For an in-depth dive into the history of the Melanope, read the article by the Shady Isle Pirate Society called Bark Melanope – The Ship of Romance and Death

The Melanope under tow from the tug Northland at the Columbia River Bar

In 1906, after almost sinking in a storm, the Maelanope was abandoned, and her rights were contested. The ship changed ownership, and she saw her last 36 years as a coal barge for the Princess Fleet. In 1946, the Maelanope was sold to Comox Logging and Railway Company and later sunk as part of the Royston breakwater over 70 years after its first cursed voyage.

Morning Beach Denman Island
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Morning Beach Park

A unique beach. When the tide is out venture to the Sandy Islands and explore the miles of sand
A shipwreck at low tide in Royston with very little of the ship remaining covered in barnacles. Part of the Royston Shipwrecks
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Royston Shipwrecks

Nestled meters from the shoreline, the Royston Shipwrecks offer a unique view of decomposing shells of once mighty ships
Sand beach Airforce Beach Comox
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Air Force Beach

This stunning 2 km sand beach located just outside of Comox on Kye Bay is perfect for families

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Original Author:

Modified: September 20, 2023
Last Visit: July 14, 2022
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