1880, The J. M. struck by lightening near Crescent City


Constructed in Eureka in 1875, the J. M. Wall was a two-masted schooner employed in the lumber trade along the California coast. She was bound for Crescent City in 1880 when she ran into a thunder storm at night.

A bolt of lightning hit the foremast and traveled downward blasting a hole in the port side of the hull nearly eight feet long and a foot wide. It appeared as if the ship would sink within a few minutes. Unwilling to accept this fate, Captain Stockfleth grabbed a piece of canvas, a hammer and some nails. A crewman lowered him over the side by a rope tied around his waist. The ship was rolling more than 30 degrees as the storm tumbled the ship. Despite being under water at times and despite the darkness and the chilling temperature Stockfleth managed to nail the canvas over the hole.

With the help of the pumps the ship was able to stay afloat for twenty days while the captain repeated his heroics whenever the canvas was about to come loose. The ship was able to reach Crescent City harbor where the damage was repaired, only to capsize three years later on the Crescent City bar where it was completely destroyed.


Stockfleth's Prayer

(A prayer said at sea
before hanging over the side
in a lightning storm at night
to nail canvas over
a gash in the hull.)

Oh, Heavenly Father,
your dark sea and night sky are so vast.
Your thunder and lightning
terrify me with their power.
Give me the wisdom to know what I can do
and the strength to do what I can.
Make tight the fragile line that ties me to this ship.
Let this piece of canvas that powers us with your wind
hold back the sea with these puny nails.
I make this prayer in humility and awe
savoring the impossibility of this act
knowing that if I survive it's because
you've let me wedge my will,
for an instant,
into the great working of your universe.