Glimpse Reefs lie in the Strait of Juan de Fuca very close to Victoria’s shoreline, unmarked by a buoy or other navigational aid. In the marine chart below, Glimpse Reefs can be seen east of Holland Point, and south of Government and Douglas Streets. The first photo, taken from Holland Point beach, shows Glimpse Reefs in the foreground with the Olympic Mountains of Washington State visible across the Strait to the south.
The appearance of Glimpse Reefs varies with the height of the tide and vantage point. Most of the rocks are submerged at higher tides, as shown in the photo below. Walkers on the Dallas Road pathway see this view when standing on the bluff near the junction of Dallas Road and Douglas Street.
At lower tides, Glimpse Reefs rocks stand out prominently. The photo below was taken at low tide from Holland Point beach. (Photos by Norm Ringuette)
This group of shallow rocks is often incorrectly described as part of Brotchie Ledge. Brotchie Ledge is much farther from shore and to the west, separated from Glimpse Reefs by one-half mile of deep water.
Spectacular grounding of tanker Santa Maria (1938)
The main event in the history of Glimpse Reefs was the grounding of a large Union Oil tanker in 1938. The Santa Maria ran onto the rocks a few feet south of the Douglas Street and Dallas Road junction, providing thousands of onlookers with an astonishing sight.
The 460 foot ship--the equivalent of a 46 story skyscraper lying on its side--was stranded “a stone’s throw” from the popular bluff pathway and busy streets.
“As the news spread through the City, there was a steady stream of sightseers converging on Dallas Road by foot, bicycle, street and motor cars,” the Daily Colonist reported. (March 18, 1938, p. 2) Traffic was especially heavy during the lunch hour and after schools closed, when students and families rushed to see the ship. Cars were double parked for blocks; police were called to keep traffic flowing. The newspaper photo on the right was taken shortly before noon and printed under the heading: “Wind Lands Ship in Victoria’s Front Yard.” (Victoria Daily Times, May 17, 1938, p. 1)
The ship ran on the reefs at 3:20 a.m., Tuesday morning, March 17, 1938. The thunderous sound of the ship hitting the rocks plus the accompanying blast of the ship’s whistle woke residents nearby. When Mr. and Mrs. C. E. Blaney looked out their Dallas Road front windows in the dark and driving rain, the ship appeared to have run straight into the bluffs. The vessel was bow in until the strong southwest wind and sea carried it broadside to the shore. (Daily Colonist, May 18, 1938, p. 1)
The tanker had discharged her cargo of oil at Vancouver and was riding high in the water on her return to Los Angeles. She hove to off Brotchie Ledge about 3 a.m. to drop off Pilot Captain James Noel. The Daily Colonist reported:
He left the ship at the usual station, some little distance east of Brotchie Ledge...Just as the pilot boat was clearing the vessel, an extremely heavy squall struck her, forcing her head inshore. Before she could gather sufficient steerage way to clear, she crashed on the reef with considerable force, puncturing her bottom in several places. (Daily Colonist, May 18, 1938, p. 1)
The Victoria Daily Times reported the wind “whipped her bow around like an unmanageable canoe and carried her inshore in the direction of Finlayson Point. It was 3:21 a.m. when the tanker piled up on Glimpse Reef.” The pilot boat was clear when the Santa Maria swung around and hit the rocks. (Victoria Daily Times, May 17, 1938, p. 1)
The Gonzales Observatory reported a wind velocity of 35 miles an hour between 3 and 5 a.m. but officials said the squall hitting the Santa Maria could have measured up to 50 mph. A “heavy southwesterly squall” was blamed for pushing the tanker onshore.
The stranding punctured the single hull of the ship on the jagged rocks. Water flooded No. 3 tank and the port pump-room. The Santa Maria grounded as the tide was falling and remained stuck fast all day. As the tide receded, the bow rose higher and the stern settled.
The Salvage King, of the Pacific Salvage Company, put a line aboard the stern of the Santa Maria. With propellers turning slowly, the tug kept the tanker from “keeling around” as she rested amidships on the rocks. To lighten the vessel for the attempt to refloat at the next high tide, fuel was pumped out and oil from that operation covered the surface of the water around the ship.
The Santa Maria was described in local newspapers as “a tank ship of 8,088 gross tons and 4,922 net tons...She was 460 feet long, 60.3 feet beam and 35.5 feet deep.” (Victoria Daily Times, May 17, 1938, p. 1) “She was built at Port Glasgow for the Union Oil Company of California in 1922 and her home port is Los Angeles.” (Daily Colonist, March 18, 1938, p. 2)
There was an especially large crowd on hand to witness the effort to refloat the tanker that evening. When four tugs--the Salvage King, Snohomish, Anyox and Salvage Princess pulled with cables about 7:15 p.m., shortly before high tide, the tanker slid easily from the reef into deep water. The ship had been stranded on Glimpse Reefs for sixteen hours.
After the tanker was refloated, it was able to move to Royal Roads under her own power. The powerful pumps of the Santa Maria were able to kept up with water entering No. 3 tank and the port pump-house. A survey was carried out March 18 by “Alex Scott, Lloyd’s classification agent in Vancouver, Capt. F. L. Clarke of the Board of Marine Underwriters, San Francisco, and W. G. Jordan, superintendent for the Pacific Salvage Company.” (Victoria Daily Times, May 18, 1938, p. 1) Damage to the Santa Maria was estimated to be $75,000. The surveyors agreed the Santa Maria could proceed to San Francisco where repairs would be made. The tanker departed from Royal Roads at 9 p.m. May 18. (Victoria Daily Times, May 19, 1938, p. 1)
The Santa Maria was the second large motor vessel grounded near Victoria in the history of the city. The first ship was the collier San Pedro, shipwrecked on Brotchie Ledge in 1891. (See Brotchie Ledge History)
Pleasure boat wrecked (1994)
Glimpse Reefs appeared in the news again after a gap of fifty-nine years. On the evening of September 1, 1994, the 38-foot power pleasure boat Grand Slam, from Seattle, ran onto the rocks and sank. Coast Guard boats rescued the six people on board. In order to avoid fuel leaks, the boat was refloated and towed to an Inner Harbour dock eight days later, under an agreement with the Coast Guard and Nick Hinskens of NHE Marine. United Engineering Ltd. lifted the boat out of the water for storage.
Two marine salvage companies claimed the sunken wreck, but Alec Proven, the receiver of wrecks for the Coast Guard, said he protects the owner’s interests in found and salvaged vessels while the salvage company and the owner negotiate an agreement over reimbursement. If a vessel is unclaimed after a year, the salvage company is usually awarded the vessel. (Times Colonist, September 10, 1994, p. 1)