Thursday, July 29, 2010

The fury of waves in fog

Pigeon Point Lighthouse on the California Coast: Image from the website of the U.S. Coast Guard

Shipwrecks, scalawags, and scavengers : the storied waters of Pigeon Point./ JoAnn Semones. Palo Alto, Calif. : The Glencannon Press, 2007. ISBN 978-1-889901-42-8. 138 p. Illustrations, Appendix, Bibliography, Index.

Tales of shipwrecks occurring off Pigeon Point between 1853 and 1953 are recounted by JoAnn Semones in Shipwrecks, scalawags, and scavengers : the storied waters of Pigeon Point. Beginning with the Carrier Pigeon, a clipper ship built in Kennebec, Maine, for whom Pigeon Point was eventually named, each chapter describes the circumstances of a wreck, gives historical details and photographic evidence of life at that time. Of the Carrier Pigeon in chapter one, floundering in the foggy and rocky coastline south of San Francisco, Semones relates:

“She boasted a hand-carved gilded figurehead of a pigeon in flight fixed just beneath her bowsprit. Symbolizing the legendary and hallowed history of the message-bearing carrier pigeon, the golden winged bird was meant to inspire the crew. The carrier pigeon was an omen of good luck --- fast, dependable, ever returning.”

“With its rocky outcroppings, heavy surf, strong currents, and thick fog banks, California’s coast was one of the most notoriously treacherous in the world. Even knowing this the crew of the Carrier Pigeon could not have foreseen her fate… Fifteen minutes after the vessel struck, seven feet of water were in the hold.”

Author JoAnn Semones' book features accounts of ships of the Pacific Mail Steamship Company which carried cargo and passengers from Panama to San Francisco. Lumber-hauling steam schooners, rum runners, fishing boats, and an amphibious barge attest to the fact that no particular hull design was immune to the fury of coastal waves in fog that obscures safe navigation. These sad tales are attended by an Appendix listing the names of those lost on each of the ships and a Bibliography of General Sources, with articles on specific shipwrecks.

Pigeon Point: look for more history and lighthouses along the West coast on the web pages of the U.S. Coast Guard
Clipper ships: see expertly built models at the Los Angeles Maritime Museum.
Fishing boats: on display at the Los Angeles Maritime Museum in the permanent exhibit “Caught Canned and Eaten”
Pacific Mail Steamship Company: one of the West coast shipping lines of the twentieth century. See the book Gold, Silk, Pioneers & Mail : from the California Gold Fields to the China Trade, the Story of Pacific Mail Steamship Company by Robert J. Chandler and Stephen J. Potash in our online catalog.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Ships wrecked, silk, tea, lumber, and fish

Hard Luck Coast: the Perilous Reefs of Point Montara. / JoAnn Semones
Published by The Glencannon Press, 2009. 188 p., illustrations, appendix, bibliography, index.

Author by JoAnn Semones' Hard Luck Coast: the Perilous Reefs of Point Montara presents the stories of ships wrecked along the California coast south of San Francisco between 1851 and 1946. Her thirteen chapters are illustrated with portraits lending personal significance to the events as they affected captains and crew of merchant ships and their cargoes from the Far East. Events during the Civil War, the evolution of the Revenue Cutter Service, the steam schooner as a lumber-carrying vessel, iron hulled ships and their demise in vessel design, fill some of the tales of hard luck. Semones recounts the story of the Leelanaw as one of the reasons for the U.S. entering World War I, and an episode near the end of World War II of a Navy Patrol vessel carrying radioactive fish that shipwrecked near Half Moon Bay. Semones' interpretation of history reveals the historical impact these ships brought to trade, hull design, voyages, and the transport of dangerous cargo. The stories of people who built the ships, mastered and crewed on them, or whose ideas and work preceded the failure of a ship in the treacherous fog along the coast at the Point Montara Light explain U.S. and world history that was impacted by light stations on the West Coast. See her general bibliography and listing of articles from journals and newspapers for primary sources available to the public.

Explanation of terms:

Far East: a term used in the 19th century for coastal edges of China, Japan, Korea and Southeast Asia.
Half-Moon Bay: a city on the coast of California, south of San Francisco.

Point Montara Light
: visit the U.S. Coast Guard’s web site: Historic Light Station Information and Photography for California for more information.
Revenue Cutter Service: an organization of ships performing customs regulation from about 1789 to 1849. See the Library books: The U.S. Revenue Cutters in the Civil War. / By Florence Kern.
The United States Coast Guard, 1790-1915; a definitive history (with a postscript: 1915-1949).
/ By Stephen H. Evans.

Become a Museum Volunteer:

At the Los Angeles Maritime Museum, volunteers answer questions at the front desk, give museum tours, operate the tug ANGELS GATE, use the Morse code, build ship models, and staff The Sea Chest, the museum’s gift shop. Visit the web page for more information.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Otter Skins

Otter Skins, Boston ships, and China Goods; the Maritime Fur Trade of the Northwest Coast, 1785-1841 by James R. Gibson. Published by McGill-Queen’s University Press, Montreal, Canada, 1992. Maps, tables, illustrations, portraits, notes, bibliography, and index.

Did you know the trade value of a single otter skin in the 1790s was a length of cloth two fathoms (about 12 feet) long? Who were the Indians of the Northwest coast? How did the purchase of pelts and skins in the Northwest and their resale on the South coast of China affect the cultures involved? And what were other trade interests of Russia, Spain, Great Britain and America between 1790 and 1840?

In ten chapters, author Gibson presents more than 50 years of trade among the Northwest Indians and the Euroamericans. He begins in Russian Headstart and Spanish Sideline discussing how the Russian expedition across the Bering Sea in 1741 began the story of trade in sea-otter pelts, and that the Spanish, already inhabiting the south coast, “… wished to keep the coast unexplored and undeveloped as a wilderness buffer against foreign penetration of the Californias and Mexico, where their primary concerns lay.” p. 18. Following are The British Disclosure, a chapter in which the author points to Captain Cook’s voyages of geographic discovery for the Europeans, and subsequent British adventurers; and the American Takeover, introducing the attraction that Yankee merchant shipping had for goods from Asia, especially as a product of commerce they, rather than Great Britain controlled.

Gibson’s work is gleaned from journals, diaries, ships’ logs, histories and other archival sources. The Notes section verifies each citation and is extensive, especially coupled with his Bibliography. Details, rather than commentary, of intertribal wars, Tlingit tobacco, Russian encounters with Spanish explorers, Yankee merchants’ experiences desire for ginseng, and that in Canton, China, traders would pay between $80-90 per fur pelt, support the overall concept of each chapter. At this period of time period in history, it was the Euroamericans who sought to exploit and control geographic traffic, commerce and areas beyond their sphere of influence.

The Natives had already intensely and frequently traded among themselves prior to the arrival of Europeans. In the Introduction, p. 8, “Trade was well suited to Northwest Coast Indian society…” and “Both scarce and specialized commodities were traded up and down the coast… mountain-goat hair “blankets” (ceremonial robes), ermine skins, copper plates, and spruce root baskets from the Tlingits; dugout cedar canoes from the Haida… and candlefish oil to be burned as candles, shark’s teeth and dentalia shells for ornament, a standard of value for the Chinooks.” Elk hide was made into “leather war costumes”, dressed and folded double or triple; they could stop arrows and lances and even musket and pistol balls at a distance.”

Gibson’s rich association of cultural and political interests is supported by his rich understanding of the players and events of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. His chapters, the British Comeback, China Market, Modes of Trade, Changes in Trade and the New Northwest Trade indicate the details of intense rivalry between nations and the implications of international trade for the well-being of all involved. Finally, culminating his discussion of social impact and history of Pacific territories and countries, his tenth chapter is The Impact of the Trade where specific relevance to the Northwest Coast, South China and New England is balanced with a review of the Hawaiian Islands, their history in trade with foreign merchant shipping.

Explanation of terms:
Fathoms explained as a measurement of length
Californias : refers to Alta California and Baja California
Tlingit: one of the tribes of the Northwest Coast
Ginseng: a medicinal root of a plant native to China.
Haida: one of the tribes of the Northwest Coast,
Chinook: one of the tribes of the Northwest Coast
Elk: a large horned mammal of the Northern hemisphere
Pacific: one of the world’s oceans bordered by Antarctica in the south, South America and North America on its eastern edges, and Russia, China, the Philippine Islands, and Australia on its western edges.
Hawaiian Islands: This site is a portal to sites about the ecology and natural environment. Choose from Environmental Data Organizations and General Interest tabs that take you to links about weather and climate, ecology, water quality, plant and animal life, sanctuaries, landmarks and maps, and much more.

Museum Volunteer: At the Los Angeles Maritime Museum, volunteers answer questions at the front desk, give museum tours, operate the tug ANGELS GATE, use the Morse code, build ship models, and staff The Sea Chest, the museum’s gift shop.