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JAUNTS : Tales Surface About Shipwrecks at Islands : The saga begins with a gold-laden vessel in the 1850s. Stories are told at the national park's visitor center.

July 28, 1994|JANE HULSE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

It was the winter of 1853 and the Winfield Scott , a paddle wheel steamer, was speeding from San Francisco to Panama, loaded with several hundred passengers, about $800,000 in gold, and tons of mail.

Dense fog set in as the steamer approached the Channel Islands on the evening of Dec. 2, and the vessel rammed full speed into Anacapa Island. Miraculously, everyone was rescued, but the vessel was doomed to the ocean floor.

The Winfield Scott , and a handful of other historic shipwrecks in the Channel Islands, are the focus of a free presentation at 3 p.m. Sunday at the Channel Islands National Park Visitor Center at Ventura Harbor.

Ranger Sue Goodglick will talk about seven of the most prominent wrecks, the most famous being the Winfield Scott , which is a popular site for divers.

"We encourage people to dive wrecks," Goodglick said. But the shipwrecks are considered protected resources and divers can neither retrieve items nor disturb them.

The Winfield Scott shipwreck is on the National Register of Historic Places. The steamer was a gold-rush era vessel, which carried gold seekers from Panama north to San Francisco, often returning with those who had made their fortunes and those who hadn't.

On the ill-fated voyage, the ship was under the command of Capt. Simon F. Blunt who hoped to cut time from the voyage by steering a course between the Channel Islands, rather than skirting them on the seaward side, according to historical accounts.

That might have worked, except for the fog. After the vessel rammed into the rocks, panicked passengers were ferried in the dark to a small rock about 200 yards off the island. Once on the island.

Not much remains of the old paddle wheel steamer. The wreck was salvaged once in 1894 and again during the 1940s, according to National Park Service archeologist Don Morris.

Divers can see part of the hull, engine fragments, parts of the paddle wheels, and a big hub from one of the wheels, said Morris.

He said all the gold bullion the steamer was carrying was removed from the ship, but divers have subsequently found a few gold coins. These probably were loose change carried by the passengers.

Another old-time ship that met its fate in the Santa Barbara Channel was the Goldenhorn , a four-masted cargo carrier that went aground off Santa Rosa Island in 1892. It got too close to the island, and when the wind failed it drifted to shore, according to Goodglick. The remains of the Aggi also rest off Santa Rosa Island. Carrying a cargo of grain, it struck a reef in 1911.

The remains of the Jane L. Stanford lie near Santa Rosa Island as well. The four-masted lumber schooner was converted to a fishing barge before it was rammed by a mail steamer in 1929. The wrecked wooden vessel was blown up by the Coast Guard, Morris said.

The Comet was a three-masted lumber schooner that rammed Wilson Rock off San Miguel Island in 1911 while sailing eight miles off course. One crew member died.

The Cuba also was a victim of San Miguel Island. In 1923, the mail steamer's radio went out for three days as it traveled from Panama to San Francisco, Goodglick said. It hit the island in heavy fog. All 122 passengers were rescued.

The most conspicuous shipwreck is the Chickasaw, a freighter that rammed the shore of Santa Rosa Island in dense fog in 1962. The hull is still visible.

"What's neat about these (shipwrecks) is that they are like time capsules," Goodglick said, and show how people lived and how ships were built. That's why they should be preserved, she said.

In her talk, called "Sunk but Not Junk," she will show slides and videos and pass around pictures of the shipwrecks.

Details

* WHAT: "Sunk but Not Junk," a talk on shipwrecks around the Channel Islands.

* WHEN: Sunday, 3 p.m.

* WHERE: Channel Islands National Park Visitor Center, the end of Spinnaker Drive, Ventura Harbor.

* FYI: 658-5730.

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