Have YOU ever heard about the S.S. Cannon Beach? If you have, count yourself among the lucky few. There are very few people living in Cannon Beach, in Oregon, or pretty much anywhere else that have even heard of this World War II era ship.
Even former Senator Hatfield hadn’t heard of the Ship in 1985 and requested information from the Maritime Administration of its existence. Even in 2000, not many in Cannon Beach had heard of the ship that was named for their town. Former crewmember, Fred Walburn, was so surprised he shot an email to the Historical Society.
“Several years ago I was in Cannon Beach for a few days and was surprised to learn that no one seemed to know that a ship had been named for your fair city,” said Walburn. He was a crewmember on the S.S. Cannon Beach for a short period after its construction in 1945. They sailed form the port of Los Angeles (San Pedro) on October 8, 1945 with a cargo of aviation fuel. They were bound for the port at Yokohama, Japan. However, just outside of the Aleutian Islands the ship was caught in a severe storm, which caused significant damage to the bulkheads. The S.S. Cannon Beach was ordered back to San Pedro for repairs and that was the last time that Walburn saw her.
The S.S. Cannon Beach was christened on August 25, 1945 at Swan Island Yard. The ship was constructed by the Kaiser Company, Inc., for the United States Maritime Commission. According to documents in the Museum’s archive the ship was one of several emergency tankers planned in 1941. These ships were of a commercial design that the Sun Ship Building Company had been building for the Standard Oil Company of New Jersey. A total of 525 of these ships were contracted between 1942 and 1948.
Many of these ships were of the classification SE-A1 and were equipped with turbo electric machinery producing a shaft horsepower of 6,000. The ships had a top speed of between 14.5 and 15 knots. Construction of these ships was shared between the “Alabama Dry-dock & Shipbuilding Company, of Mobile, Alabama, the Kaiser Company’s Swan Island Yard at Portland, Oregon, the Marine Ship Corporation at Sausalito, California and the Sun Shipbuilding & Dry-dock Company of Chester, Pennsylvania.”
In a letter addressed to former Oregon State Senator Mark O. Hatfield and dated April 4, 1985, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Maritime Administration department, states that the S.S. Cannon Beach was operated by Pacific Tankers under a General Agency Agreement with the War Shipping Administration. From September 1945 to September 1947 the ship primarily carried petroleum products in the Pacific. In October 1947, the SS Cannon Beach was sold to the Lanmore Company and registered under the Panamanian flag. It continued to transport petroleum until it was sold in December of 1960 to the Panama Trans-Oceanic Company, S.A. She was then placed in the shipyard of Hamburg, Germany, where she was lengthened to 575 feet and renamed the Carolyn E. Conway.
The former S.S. Cannon Beach continued to operate for another fifteen years before the ship was sold for scrap. Sadly, breaking up of the vessel was completed in Taiwan in 1976.
Though the S.S. Cannon Beach had a sad ending and a rather uneventful history, there is no doubt that she brought a little international prestige to our small town and adds an interesting twist in Cannon Beach’s unique history.