Columbia Meets HMS Discovery & Chatham – April 29, 1792

by Steve Mayo in Columbia

Capt. Robert Gray’s ship Columbia meeting Capt. George Vancouver’s ships HMS Discovery and Chatham off the Northwest coast of America – April 29, 1792 
  The fur-trading ship Columbia Rediviva of Boston commanded by Captain Robert Gray is shown approaching the Northwest coast south of Cape Flattery.  Columbia had spent the night sailing out to sea for half the night then reversing her course to sail back toward the coast. This common practice for vessels exploring unknown shores would place them at dawn at or near where they had been the evening before. The task of examining the shore could continue in the safety of daylight. Gray and his men were surprised to see two vessels coming up from the south to meet them.

   The two vessels were HMS Discovery and HM Armed Tender Chatham, under Captain George Vancouver, on their mission to chart and explore the North Pacific coast for Great Britain. Vancouver’s vessels had spent the night anchored off Destruction Island south of the Quillayute River. At 4:00 AM, with first light, they weighed anchor and got underway. First with a light easterly then changing to southerly, the vessels began sailing nor’northwest close along the coast with all sail set including stuns’ls (studding sails).


   Around 5:30, the ships sighted each other off the mouth of the Quillayute River, hoisted their colors and shortened sail to meet. This view shows the ships converging around 6:00 with a light southwesterly breeze. The entire crew of Columbia is visible on deck or in the rigging to see who the approaching ships might be. Discovery and Chatham are still taking in their stuns’ls. By 6:30, all three vessels were hove to and Vancouver sent Lieutenant Peter Puget with Archibald Menzies across to the American ship in a small 16’ cutter. Captain Gray shared with the British information gleaned from his fur-trading activities, including details of harbors, inlets and passages of the Northwest coast. After several hours together, the British ships headed north to round Cape Flattery and enter the Strait of Juan de Fuca, followed for a time by Columbia.


   From Vancouver’s journal, referring to Captain Gray:

“It was not a little remarkable that, on our approach to the entrance of this inland sea, we should fall in with the identical person who, it had been stated (by British fur-trader John Meares), had sailed through it.”

   From Columbia’s 4th mate, John Boit’s, journal: 

“This day spoke His Britannic Majesty’s Ships Discovery and Chatham, commanded by Capt. George Vancouver and Lieutenant Wm. Broughton, from England, on a voyage of discovery. A boat boarded us from the Discovery, and we gave them all the information in our power, especially as respected the Straits of Juan de Fuca, which place they was then in search of.”
   Lieutenant Peter Puget was the officer in charge of the boat that was rowed over to the Columbia.
   This chance meeting of these explorers on the Northwest coast of America was a surprising and historic encounter. 
– Steve Mayo

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