The SS Princess Sophia

Construction Details

Company British Columbia Coastal Service (BCCS), subsidiary of the Canadian Pacific Railway
Shipbuilder Bow, McLachlan and Co. in Paisley, Scotland
Date of Commission May 1911
Date of Launch November 8 1911
Maiden Voyage June 7 1912

Photo: Alaska State Library, Winter and Pond Collection, ASL-P87-1699

General Particulars

Tonnage 2320
Length 245’ (75 m)
Beam 44’ (13 m)
Draught 12’ (4 m)
Depth 24’ (7 m)
Propulsion Single Screw, Triple Expansion Steam Engine
Fuel Type Diesel, as Refitted in 1912 from Coal-Burning Propulsion
Tank Capacity 29 000 Oil Barrels
Maximum Speed 13-14 Knots
Capacity 250-350 Passengers; Maximum Capacity 500 Passengers with special permissions

Photo: Alaska State Library,  Ships in Alaskan Waters Photograph Collection, ASL-P134a-Princess-Sophia-16

A Royal Name for a Princess Ship

sophia

 

 

The steamship was named for Princess Sophia, grand-daughter of Queen Victoria and daughter of Emperor Frederick III of Germany. Sophia was christened by a daughter of Arthur Piers, who managed the marine division of the CPR. Many of the women from the Piers family named CP vessels: the Princess Adelaide and Alice were named by Mrs. Piers; the Princess Mary was named by their daughter, then Mrs. Pritchard; and the Sophia was named by the unmarried daughter, Miss Piers.

A Sailor’s Superstition

Certainly it is a fact that the greater percentage of the shipping casualties of the past few years on the coast have had for their victims craft whose names have had the hoodooed ‘A’ affixed or prefixed…

 

Qtd. in T. W. Paterson, “Jinxed ‘A,’” The Daily Colonist, October 29, 1972, 10.

This mariner’s account from 1902 seems to be affirmed by the fate of the Princess Sophia, who was not the only A-affixed vessel to have met the murky depths; the Valencia, the Wala Wala, Ramona, and the Black Ball Ferry Company’s Kalakala and Ex-Peralta are all Passenger-class liners which have been lost in the Pacific Northwest. The three Empress ships that went down during WWII also ended in the cursed “A”: the Empress of Canada, Empress of Asia, and Empress of Russia. 

Sophia’s Purpose

The Princess Sophia was commissioned during a time of major growth in the CPR. Between the summer of 1910 and the fall of 1914, eight new Princess ships and two tugs were built for service on the West Coast. The Sophia was specifically designed and built for the northern routes up to Alaska, and operated on these lines from May to October. During the winter months she spent her time ferrying between Victoria and Vancouver. She was stout and modest, designed to comfortably carry passengers and freight to remote northern communities.

Service During WWI

The Princess  lines still operated during WWI as people were choosing to travel domestically rather than over seas to the bloody battlefields. There were some disruptions, however, as the Princess ships, including Sophia, were used to transport troops down the coast and over to Vancouver where the new soldiers would then take the long railway trip to the Atlantic and thereon to the front lines. By 1918, there were also American troops who were making their way to the front lines, many of which boarded the Sophia from Alaskan mining towns, making their way south to ports in Seattle or San Francisco.

Previous Hits and Repairs

The Sophia had already had her share of mishaps long before her fateful voyage in October 1918. There were three main incidents which marked her brief term as a CPR ocean liner: on November 1913, the Sophia collided with a submerged object and broke her stern post; in April 1913, she ran aground on the north end of Sentinel Island, at the same site where the Princess May had hit three years before; and in January 1914, the Sophia ran aground near Alert Bay. Though CPR was able to repair her each time, the sailor’s superstition was luring well before Sophia’s final collision in the Lynn Canal.