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.

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