Ships Wrecked off the Mendocino Coast

The picture below of the sailing schooner “Norma” on the sand bar of Ten Mile river is on the wall of The Fort Bragg Guest House. The Norma had spent 14 days off shore waiting to enter Fort Bragg. Her last attempt ended her career—on November 18, 1898. She was a 3-masted schooner, 138.5 ft. length, by 34.1 ft. breadth and 10.5 feet deep. Norma was not a regular “doghole” schooner though she did carry a number of redwood cargoes. The wheel of the Norma is on display in Guest House Museum in Fort Bragg.

Norma on the sand bar at Ten Mile River

The “Norma” was but one of the many wrecks along the rocky Mendocino Coast. The vessels that plied in and out of Mendocino’s doghole ports bringing in machinery and supplies and taking out lumber products had to deal with frequent foul weather and rock strewn approaches. During storms along the Mendocino coast, ships lying at coast landings had to put out to sea to avoid being lost. If you were a sailing vessel that was no easy task. Steam powered schooners which started to supplant sail around 1900 fared better because they get up steam quickly and ride out the storm at sea.

According to the shipwreck data base of the California State Lands Commission, there were 160 shipwrecks off the Mendocino Coast between 1850-1900. The Mendocino Lumber Company, for example, lost the Storm Cloud in 1865, the Brilliant and the Ella Florence in 1873, and the Bobolink in 1898; Caspar Lumber Company fared the same, losing the Cora in 1874, both the Elvenia and Caspar in 1897, and the Jewel in 1899.

One of the worst storms on record occurred between November 17th and 23rd, 1865. Mrs. Silas Coombs of Little River wrote about the storm in the November 28th issue of the “Ukiah Herald.” She reported that in one night at Noyo (Fort Bragg) the schooner R. J. Whiting disappeared, at Caspar the schooner Metis was a complete wreck. In the harbor at Little River three schooners, Ellen Adelia, Don Leandro and Phoebe Fay were beached and wrecked. At Mendocino City the Storm Cloud and the Golden State were wrecked. At Point Reyes the schooner Helen was lost and outside of San Francisco Bay the schooner Helen Louisa was also lost.

Other wrecks in the late 1800’s (according to our eminent historian Louis Hough) were “Bobolink” March 22nd 1898 at Kent’s Point in Mendocino Bay; “Brilliant” lost on December 22nd 1873 at Mendocino Bay; “Cora” lost at Caspar on April 12th 1874; “Don Leandro” lost in 1883 at Little River; “Ella Florence” lost in March 1872 at Mendocino Bay; “Ellen Adelia” lost on August 6th, 1884 – she sailed from Bowen’s Landing and then was wrecked off Point Reyes. “Elvenia” was wrecked on April 4th 1897 at Caspar, but her hulk was towed to San Francisco to save her cargo of redwood. “Golden State” was lost on May 18th at Point Arena; “Helen” was lost in 1864 at Point Arena.

The last load of lumber to leave the Mendocino Coast by sea left in 1938 from the pier off of the Union Lumber Company’s pier at Soldier Point in Fort Bragg.

Caspar Lumber Company’s Wrecked Fleet of Ships

If you look at the “stories” of the three schooners named “Caspar”, the “Alliance”, and the “Samoa” in this section of our website you will see that they were all owned by the Caspar Lumber Company. The May 1966 Western Railroader #316 on the Caspar Lumber Company tells us that not only did these ships that we have stories about come to grief, but so did most of Caspar Lumber Company’s fleet. Read for yourself by clicking the thumbnail of the first page on right. A pdf version can be downloaded  here

More Wrecks

Louis Hough has unearthed more information about wrecks along the Mendocino Coast – he used Jackson’s book “The Doghole Schooners” for much of the information.

ALCYONA: swamped at her moorings in the Noyo basin on January 13, 1863.

EUROPEAN: disappeared after she departed Noyo on October 14, 1857 with 20 cords of firewood.

FREE TRADE: became a total wreck at Noyo on February 2, 1881.

JAMES TOWNSEND: built in 1867 by Thomas H. Peterson at Noyo for Macpherson & Wetherbee. A 3-masted schooner, she was rated at 168 tons burthen. Peterson charged them $17,000 to build her. In the exchange of Macpherson & Wetherbee timber properties, the schooner came under the ownership of White and Plummer. She was in their service when she was wrecked. According to the newspaper “Mendocino Beacon” the year of her loss was 1882. According to “The Doghole Schooners,” the wreck occurred in the 1890’s.

J.B. BROWN: was wrecked at Albion in 1857 and repaired.

J.J. FRANSSEN: she carried 150,000 board feet (which may or may not have been lost when) she was wrecked at Noyo in 1880.

J.R.WHITING (2nd): was driven ashore at Noyo on February 1863, and “will be a total loss”, according to the Ukiah Herald of Feb. 17, 1863. “She was under the command of Dan Kehler, younger brother of John Kehler of Mendocino.” She was refloated and repaired. Then on November 17, 1865, while tied up in Noyo harbor during the great storm of that year, she was lost without a trace. Seven men were lost with her. The vessel was partially insured by her owner Eugene Brown of Mendocino.

MARY CLEVELAND: was owned and operated by M. E. Jasperson of San Francisco and wrecked in Noyo harbor on November 16, 1887.

MENDOCINO: was wrecked on Humboldt Bay bar on January 2, 1888.

SUE MERRILL: Thomas Peterson built her at Russian Gulch, roughly five miles south of the Noyo in 1866. This lovely vessel was actually the first 3-masted schooner built on the Mendocino coast and was designed to carry a cargo of about 148 tons. Her proud owners, Merrill & Company of San Francisco, were aghast to see her wrecked on the south point of the Noyo entrance four hours after her launching, never to earn them one dime. Fortunately no lives were lost.