Day One at the Fifth Annual California Islands Symposium Expedition Class Materials

Monday, 3/29/99

Shipwreck !

FIELD UPDATE : a long lost shipwreck is appearing again, emerging from the shifting sands on San Miguel Island. The three masted schooner, the Comet, wrecked off the coast of San Miguel Island on Wilson Rock in 1911, and washed ashore where it was photographed at the time of the disaster, had long since disappeared under the sands of Simington Cove on San Miguel. All that has been seen of the ship for many years was the tip of her anchor.

Researchers from National Parks and the National Marine Sanctuary have been keeping a watchful eye out for any indication of the ship’s where abouts for many years. On March 13th, 1999 the alarm was sounds – the Comet has been sighted on the shore of Simington Cove again !

A research team flew out to the site right away, and discovered pieces of the ship’s deck and machinery, which they were able to match to the ship’s log to ascertain that this is indeed the Comet. Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary maritime historian Bob Schwemmer reported on this recent event at the 5th California Islands Symposium, March 30th, 1999.

The following is an interpretive field report based on his announcements at the Symposium.

How did this ship come to find its final resting-place on San Miguel Island ?

The Comet was a three masted lumber schooner built in the state of Washington and launched from the port of Aberdeen on August 23rd in 1911. The Comet had been to the Southern California coast before and there is a picture of her docked at Santa Barbara in 1905. On her fateful final voyage, she was carrying 500,000 board feet of lumber bound for San Pedro, and entered the Santa Barbara Channel to save time on the trip as it is faster to sail the inner channel than to skirt the islands on the Pacific side. Unfortunately, some of the ship’s instrumentation for navigation was being repaired, and she sailed off course 8-10 miles as she entered the Channel. Surrounded by fog in the evening, the Comet ran into the raised pinnacle called Wilson Rock, which is part of a submerged reef hard to see with the naked eye in the rolling waves of the sea.

The Comet soon lifted up off the rocky pinnacle, but was taking in too much water through her damaged hull to make it to Santa Barbara. The captain decided to let her drift ashore on San Miguel, where she came to rest at Simington Cove where she began to slowly disappear into the sands. Time, sand, and storms have since overtaken the Comet, and this March ’99 reemergence of the wreck is exciting the maritime history community, and opening new efforts to examine this well-known shipwreck.

Questions to consider :

How many trees would it take to create 500,000 board feet of lumber ? And why do you think it was being shipped to San Pedro in 1911 ?

The Comet was built of Douglas fir and had iron fasteners – both of which are showing up in the wreckage. What other ways were boats being built at the time – both materials and techniques ?

Would you have sailed into the Channel, knowing there were rocky reefs ahead, in the dark, in the fog, with out all of your navigation equipment working ? What do you think the captain could have done to prevent the shipwreck ?

Continue on to Field Report 2