Discovering a Lost Anchor on the West Coast Of Vancouver Island

25 years ago, Bill Coltart, the owner of Big Animal Encounters, was diving the rugged west coast of Vancouver Island when he came upon a massive anchor buried in the sand. Only one fluke stuck about 4ft out of the sand, clearly set, the rest buried in the silty bottom. He logged the location, then forgot about it until 2022.

lost anchor nootka log book 1998

Bill Coltart’s log book from when he first discovered the anchor – September 12, 1998.

Over the years, stories started to arise from hundreds of years ago that reminded him of the anchor buried in Nootka Sound. Tales of Captain Cook and his British galleons sailing into Nootka Sound in the late 1700s, relations with the Nuu-chah-nulth Indigenous peoples, trading posts, and sunken ships. Could the anchor he discovered 25 years ago have any relation to this?

Intrigued, he dug through his old diving log books and found the location of the anchor drawn on a page from September 12, 1998. He gathered a group of friends and headed out to Nootka Sound in May 2023.

nootka sound diving

Bill Coltart and Chris Broadbent navigating through Nootka Sound as we head toward the bay where the anchor was discovered in 1998. Photo by Shannon Groenewegen.

While travelling west from Gold River through the towering mountains and past remote beaches, we approached the exposed west coast of Vancouver Island. The energy shifted and you could feel the history of the area, easily pictuting the Spanish and British galleons sailing into the sound from open ocean. Moderate swell rocked the boat until we tucked into the protected bay where Bill had logged the anchor.

We suited up and hopped in the water with the plan that whoever found the anchor was to tie off their SMB (surface marker buoy) and send it to the surface. Within 5 minutes of the first dive, two divers located the anchor. Bill watched from the boat as the SMB reached the surface.

smb marking anchor nootka sound

Shannon’s SMB marking the anchor. Photo by Bill Coltart.

Much of it buried further over the years, only the tip of the fluke remained exposed. Surrounding the anchor was pieces of Union Steamship pottery – plates, bowls, and cups dating to the mid 1800s. These pieces of history had been sealed away and forgotten about for over 100 years.

nootka sound anchor

The anchor as we found it in May 2023 – just part of the fluke sticking out of the sand. You can see the Union Steamship plates in the background. Photo by Bill Coltart.

Excitement filled the team as we came up with a plan to uncover it. We began to dredge the anchor out using scooters, kicking up silt and drastically decreasing the visibility in the bay. After a day, the silt had settled and we were able to marvel at the anchor that had sat undisturbed since Bill had discovered it 25 years ago.

The anchor after we dredged it out with scooters. You can see the metal crossbeam. Union steamship pottery still surrounds the anchor. Photo by Bill Coltart.

It was an enormous anchor with what seemed to be a hand-forged chain and a shaft about 6 feet long. It has a steel cross bar, dating the anchor at likely around the 1850s or younger. Due to the young age of the anchor, it may not have any relation to the Spanish and British explorers that entered this area in the late 1700s. But, who knows what kind of tales will arise from this anchor…

anchor nootka sound

The anchor dredged out. You can see the long crossbeam and a Union Steamship plate beside it. Photo by Bill Coltart.

We left the anchor, uncovered, and are all eagerly awaiting for our return to discover more about it.

nootka sound diving team

The team in Friendly Cove, Nootka Sound. Left to right: Bill Coltart, Chris Broadbent, Bill Nadeau (back), Shannon Groenewegen, Chuck Williams.