It was 2:10 AM on October 25, 1918. The steamer Princess Sophia (pictured above) had been three hours late leaving Skagway, Alaska Territory southbound. Visibility was poor in Lynn Canal due to snow swirling around the ship, but Captain Leonard P. Locke kept the speed up, hoping to make up lost time. According to Robert Belyk, author of Great Shipwrecks of the Pacific Coast:
Under unfavorable conditions, it seems likely that either Captain Locke or his first officer, Jerry Shaw, made a navigation error, taking the Princess Sophia on a mid-channel course that ended abruptly on Vanderbilt Reef...in the center of the channel, more than a mile off course.A rocky outcropping rising rising about fifteen feet above the water at low tide, Vanderbilt Reef's flat surface is submerged under high tides or heavy swells. The only warning of the hazard then was a buoy placed at the south end of the rock. Many regular travelers along Lynn Canal had petitioned authorities for a lighted buoy, but their requests had been ignored.The Princess Sophia struck with such a force that some of the passengers were thrown from their berths. Alarmed, women still dressed in their nightclothes rushed on deck. According to a letter written aboard the ship and later found on the body of the victim, the captain ordered the lifeboats readied and swung out over the side in preparation for launch, but it was clear no one would live in the stormy sea.