Story last updated at 10/31/2012 - 2:26 pm
Last week we learned about the International Boundary Survey and Cape Muzon's place as the number one monument for the entire Alaska-Canada boundary. Other historical events took place on this remote southern extremity of Dall Island, one of the islands off the western coast of Prince of Wales Island.
Being a conspicuous point for seafarers of yore, it has had many different names. Researcher Arsenio Rey Terjerina states that on July 20, 1774, Captain Juan Perez Millan and his 86-man crew touched the southern tip of Alaska after a voyage of four and a half months. The intent of the expedition was to survey and describe the land of the Kaigani tribes. He gave the Cape the name "Punta de Santa Margarita." It was late in the season so the expedition turned back to its home port in Mexico. All other resources I have checked, say Perez did not reach Alaska.
Spanish explorer Don Jacinto Caamano came upon the Cape in 1792 as he sailed north and named it "Cabo de Munoz or Cabo de Munoz Goosens." William Dixon called it Cape Pitt, and Captain Nathaniel Douglas chose "Cape Irving" in 1887. When Captain James Vancouver sailed by in 1894, he copied the name from Caamano, but spelled it "Muzon." None of these explorers appeared to have gone ashore on the surf-bashed point. None asked the Natives what it was called. It was said to have been Cape Kaygany, undoubtedly for a village near the cape.
In 1905 discussion took place about a lighted navigational aid to mark the Cape for future seafarers. However, it wasn't until 1912, an aid was installed. The light had to be rebuilt after a violent storm in December 1940. Today marine charts show a navigational aid at Cape Muzon.
Sighted from off-shore, the Cape must have seemed a welcome sight after days at sea. But captains needed to be alert to their charts and the navigational aid. In late August 1939, the fish tender DEFY, skippered by Fred Nimtz, struck a bluff and pushed in the bow of the boat. She hit the reef inside Cape Muzon when he attempted to beach the vessel. The holed craft began to fill until water came through the port holes. It was time for Nimtz to abandon ship. He watched her break up on the rocks. I haven't found how he was rescued.
More recently, on May 24, 1994, the $3 million to $4 million dollar yacht "Zopilote," built by Delta Marine, was declared a total loss after running aground on a charted rock at Cape Muzon. Bruce Kessler, the owner with his wife Joan of the 63-foot vessel, knew the rock was there but thought it would be visible at low tide. The rock gouged a hole in the hull the entire length of the vessel. Five people aboard were able to take to the ship's tender and escaped unharmed.
The insurance company declared the boat a total loss. Ketchikan's Del Hansen and the Alaska Diving Service, with the "Alaska Salvor," pulled the "Zopilote" off the rocks. Generators, sinks, and other heavy equipment fell to the ocean floor. The salvaging crew worked quickly to install buoyancy devices in the bow to keep her afloat and began to tow her to Ketchikan. Heavy seas pounded both vessels and once a tow line snapped. By the time the boats reached Cape Chacon, the "Zopilote" was floating so low she was barely visible. The average speed under tow was 2.5 knots; however, the severely damaged vessel finally reached Ketchikan. She was sold to Palmer Yacht Sales for $1,000 and he transported her to Vancouver B.C. for reconstruction. A year later she was sold for $3.0 million to a couple in the Texas oil business and they renamed her.
In these two ship wrecks no one lost their lives. But a floating fish trap watchman was not so lucky. A gale swept the coast the last week in August 1950. Ernest Lane and Jerry Murphy, watchmen on the W. S. Balcom floating trap, could tell that the winds and waves were rising. The pair launched their skiff and headed for shore and an emergency cabin to wait out the storm. The skiff swamped before they reached the beach. Murphy managed to hang onto it until he and the skiff washed through the surf to shore. He escaped badly bruised. Lane, a brother-in-law of the trap's owner, went down as the skiff overturned. No trace of his body was ever found. As for the trap, it was demolished. During that storm 14 other traps in the Ketchikan area were so badly damaged they could not be repaired for fishing before the end of the season.
Above the Cape is 1,560-foot Mt. Muzon, the summit of the ridge. It was named in 1914 by US-Canada Boundary surveyors. The mountain forms the eastern shore of a small, open bay known as McLeod Bay.
Captain Thomas J. Maher of the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey wrote his memories now on the NOAA History website. He was involved in building a primary triangulation station on the mountain. Unfortunately he does not date his experience, but it was probably in 1914. Maher and the crew were camped on the shore of McLeod Bay. Near the head of the bay lived William D. McLeod. McLeod, a Scotsman, was sent in the 1880s to Howkan (on Long Island) by the Presbyterian Missions to operate a sawmill at Ham Cove on eastern Dall Island. At sometime he built a home at the cove that bears his name. Here he prospected, found promising minerals, and worked his claims. McLeod was happy for Maher's and his crew's company and he hiked up with the survey crew each day. First a trail had to be blazed and built through heavy timber to reach a line-of sight location on the mountain. Maher wrote, "Frequent banks of fog swept in from the Pacific, obscuring distant stations [Cape Chacon and Graham Island in British Columbia], and twenty-eight ascents were made before the work was done."
Each evening the men would hike back to camp, and often McLeod, who came down earlier, would have a dinner of fish or venison prepared for them. Among the work accomplished that season was placement of a permanent survey monument. This was a four-inch copper bolt, set three inches into the rock. Over this the men placed a concrete pier, 18-inches square and 42-inches high. A nail was set in the top to mark the point over the bolt. Such a sturdy monument must still be standing somewhere on the mountain above the 1,000-foot elevation.
With this knowledge about Cape Muzon, keep your eyes open as you read and hear the news. Its status as the start of the U.S. and Canadian border is sometimes mentioned, especially in recent years over fisheries issues. And watch for stories of poor navigators in the stormy, rocky waters off the Cape.
Pat Roppel is the author of numerous books about mining, fishing, and man's use of the land. She lives in Wrangell. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.