Pigeon Point lighthouse was the private domain of Capt. Marner–a crusty white-haired sea captain who deeply loved ships. From his “white pinnacle” at Pigeon Point, he had spotted the Colombia before the wreck and thought it was the “tender Madrone”–an offical vessel carrying a lighthouse inspector for an impromptu visit.
“I hallooed to my boys,” Capt Marner said, “and they ran to put on their good clothes to recieve the inspector.”
But he soon realized his error as he witnessed the Colombia “lifted by the roll of the sea and dropped again crunching and grinding its nose on the rocks”.
It was a painful sight for Capt. Marner who talked like a man witnessing a good friend’s death.
“Do ya see how she fights for life? Ah, it’s too bad. She won’t let go of the rock,” Marner said. “She’s afraid of going down if she does. She thinks she’ll hold on and live a little longer. But it’s useless. She can’t live, a big rock sticking straight up in her bow and holding her there while the sea whips her tail and rolls her round like a piece of driftwood.”
By the time Lastreto arrived in Pescadero to wire San Francisco for help, the village was buzzing with excitement. While awaiting reply, he sauntered over to the Swanton House where Sarah Swanton, the inn’s famous hostess, insisted on cooking him breakfast.
Emerging from the hotel, Lastreto saw a stagecoach loaded with Pescaderans and city folks, guests at the Swanton House, all headed for the drama at the beach. They welcomed him abord, and when they arrived at the scene of the shipwreck, the fog had finally lifted.
The city folk passed the day picking up the limes that swept ashore and later in the afternoon, a trio of tugs arrived to transport the calm passengers to San Francisco.
The exact cause of the wreck stirred a contentious debate.
“That fog horn must be out of order,” one of the ship’s officers said, referring to the Pigeon Point lighthouse.
“My fog horn was blowing twice a minute all night,” dissented old Capt. Marner.
“It was as faint as if it were miles away,” the ship’s officer continued, “and it sounded far out at sea. The sound came from the west, not from the north. When she struck, Capt. Clark had no idea where he was. The shore could not be seen.”
“This is one of the queerest accidents I ever knew of,” Capt. Marner said, “and I’ve been 35 years at sea.”
Captain Clark said he confused the fog signal at New Year’s Island (Ano Nuevo) with that of Pigeon Point. The two signals stood not far apart and Clark maintained that he thought he was two miles offshore and some distance north of the lighthouse that marked the final resting place of his ship.
The Pescaderans took full advantage of the wreck as a reat quantity of eastern white lead, the prime element of paint, was recovered from the ocean bed. Shortly it was trading at four cents a pound–and according to legend, every house in Pescadero boasted a fresh coat of white paint.
Hundreds of feet of white and gold moulding stripped form the steamer’s staterooms were later fashioned into frames. The salvaged copper wire was used for clotheslines from which hung bolts of satin, blue eans, woolen blankets and quilts. Hat racks, writing desks and other furniture from the Colombia furnished nearby Coastside homes. Kitchen tables were weighted down with granite ware, pots, kettles and tin ware, all from the dead ship.
“The wreckage was so profitable,” a newspaper reported, “that one of the salvagers was able to buy a home in Spanishtown [Half Moon Bay].”
Three months later cases of olive oil still floated ashore. When the Colombia was finally dynamited, Pigeon Point lighthouse’s Capt. Marner grieved for the steamer, telling anyone who would listen: “She was too young to go.”
Story by John Vonderlin
Email John ([email protected])
You might want to add this story from the July 19th, 1896 Â issue of the San Francisco Call to your Colombia shipwreck
info collection. I’ve got a few others I’ll send along about the scavenging, sightseeing boat excursions,Â etc. I’m glad the name Colombia
Cove didn’t stick. Enjoy. John.
COLOMBIA Â COVE’S Â WRECK
The Â Undoing Â of Â a Â Stranded
Liner Â Viewed Â by Â Crowds
of Â Sightseers.
Souvenir-Hunters Â Besiege Â the Â Vessel
in Â Search Â of Â Relics Â of Â the
ON Â BOARD Â STEAMSHIP Â COLOMBIA,
ashore Â off Â Pigeon Â Point Â Light Â (via Â Pesca –
dero, Â Cal.), Â July Â 18.â€•The Â wrecking Â of Â the
steamer Â goes Â on, Â though Â tbe Â bay Â (they
call Â it Â Colombia Â Cove Â now) Â is Â calm Â and
the Â breakers Â stilled. Â The Â ship’s Â people
know Â that Â at Â any Â time Â the Â waves Â from Â a
local Â blow, Â or Â a Â mountainous Â swell Â boating
in Â from Â some Â far Â off Â gale Â will Â driveÂ Â tbe
crew Â ashore Â and Â finish Â the Â work Â of Â the
Everything Â that Â can Â be Â moved Â and Â re –
moved Â to Â the Â schooners Â alongsideÂ Â is
wrenched Â and Â torn Â from Â its Â fastenings Â and
hoisted Â over Â tbe Â rail Â with Â the Â still Â useful
That Â donkey-machine Â has Â immortalized
itself. Â While Â the Â great Â main Â engines Â of
the Â ship Â lie Â deadÂ Â and Â corroding Â under
water, Â the Â donkey-boiler, Â perched Â above
the Â sea, Â is Â in Â action, Â and Â Fireman Â Collins
isÂ Â the Â sooty Â Casablanca Â who Â stays Â by Â the
When Â the Â tide Â registers Â high Â on Â the
liter-marks Â on Â the Â bulkhead Â and Â his Â fire
sizzles Â out Â he Â drops Â his Â shovel, Â washes Â his
face Â in Â the Â flood Â that Â chases Â him Â from Â his
post Â and Â goes Â up Â the Â ladder. Â Though Â Col –
lins Â is Â a Â king Â in Â a Â small Â way. Â he Â can Â stay
the Â sea Â no Â more Â than Â did Â Canute Â ages Â ago;
but Â he Â gets Â a Â good Â head Â of Â steam Â on Â before
the Â water Â laps Â over Â the Â gratebars Â and Â the
faithful Â “donkey” Â runs Â until Â the Â tide Â falls.
Then Â Collins Â again Â starts Â his Â fire Â and Â lor
a Â season Â defies Â the Â waves.
One Â of Â the Â foremost Â laborers Â in Â the Â work
of Â stripping Â the Â steamer Â is Â Ship-Carpenter
Wheaton. Â He Â assisted Â in Â building Â the
Colombia Â and Â is Â now Â engaged Â in Â undoing
hisÂ Â work. Â With Â chisel Â and Â crowbar Â he
ruthlessly Â wrenches Â mirrors, Â desks, Â wash –
stands, Â racks Â and Â lampsÂ Â from Â their Â places
and Â tosses Â them Â out Â onto Â the Â deck Â to Â be
hoisted Â aboard Â the Â awaiting Â schooners.
He Â removed Â the Â piano Â from Â the Â saloon
yesterday, Â but Â with Â more Â care Â than Â he Â be –
stows Â on Â his Â other Â plunder. Â There Â are
three Â other Â pianos Â down Â in Â the Â flooded
The Â only Â idle Â person Â aboard Â the Â Colom –
bia Â is Â Customs Â Inspector Â O’Leary, Â who Â is
here Â to Â see Â that Â nothing Â dutiable Â washes
out Â through Â the Â holes Â in Â tie Â hulk Â without
his Â chalkmarks Â thereon. Â As Â he Â hasÂ Â no
diving Â suit Â he Â is Â unable Â to Â get Â down Â into
the Â hold Â and Â prevent Â the Â landing Â of Â the
cargo, Â and Â consequently Â he Â is Â in Â a Â quan –
dary. Â He Â trusts Â that Â Deputy Â Collector
Bam Â Rudell Â will Â understand Â the Â situation.
The Â only Â foreign Â importations Â that Â have
escaped Â him Â thus Â far Â are Â about Â 40,000,000
limes Â that Â haveÂ Â gone Â bobbing Â merrily Â one
by Â one Â through Â the Â breakers Â to Â the Â beach
without Â permission Â lrom Â the Â Treasury
Department. Â Inspector Â O’Leary Â has Â missed
several Â cases Â of Â men’s Â trousers Â from Â the
ship, Â which Â have Â gone Â out Â through Â the
shattered Â bottom Â and Â have Â disappeared.
The Â souvenir Â fiend Â has Â come Â down Â upon
the Â helpless Â ship. Â Every Â article Â worthless
for Â practical Â uses Â has Â been Â picked Â up,
whether Â floating Â or Â beached, Â and Â borne
away Â to Â be Â exhibited Â in Â after Â years Â as Â a
memento Â of Â Colombia Â Cove’s Â last Â victim.
One Â woman Â tourist Â from Â Boston Â found Â on
the Â beach Â a Â sardine Â can Â which Â Joe Â Levy Â of
Pescadeo Â had Â thrown Â away Â after Â eating Â its
contents Â on Â the Â bluff Â the Â day Â before.
An Â old Â gentleman Â hailing Â from Â Belve –
dere Â secured Â a Â driftinc Â beer-bottle Â and
carried Â it Â away Â in Â triumph, Â nor Â recogniz –
ing Â it Â as Â having Â accompanied Â him Â to Â the
locality Â that Â morning. Â AÂ Â sweet Â Stanford
co-ed Â risked Â her Â life Â snatching Â from Â the
salt Â sea Â waves Â a Â pocket-comb Â which Â her
escort, Â a Â football Â savage, Â had Â lost. Â He
had Â been Â combing Â his Â long, Â Samsonian
tresses Â behind Â a Â rock Â a Â la Â mermaid Â and
had Â dropped Â it Â overboard.
The Â countryÂ Â swarms Â with Â midsummer
campers Â and Â the Â shipwreck Â is Â an Â addi –
tional Â attraction Â for Â them. Â They Â come
down Â tbe Â beach, Â sit Â on Â the Â rocks Â and Â take
in Â the Â marine Â drama, Â with Â the Â poor Â Colom –
bia Â occupying Â the Â center Â of Â the Â stage. Â A
bright Â sun Â lights Â the Â scene, Â and Â the Â or –
chestral Â breakers Â play Â an Â eternal Â mono –
chord. Â Other Â ships Â pass Â and Â repass Â tbe
little Â bay. Â gliding Â smoothly Â over Â the Â quiet
sea, Â and Â their Â freedom Â makes Â the Â condi –
tion Â of Â their Â luckless Â sister, Â bound Â as Â she
in Â to Â a Â rock, Â all Â the Â more Â pitiable.
“I Â was Â listening Â to Â the Â Ano Â Nuevo Â fog
signal Â sounding Â off Â the Â starboard Â quarter,
and Â had Â not Â the Â slightest Â idea Â ol Â danger,”
said Â Captain Â Clark Â to-day, Â in Â discussing
the Â recent Â disaster. Â “I Â was Â sure Â that Â it
was Â the Â Pigeon Â Point Â warning, Â and Â as Â it
sounded Â so Â indistinct Â in Â the Â thick Â fog Â I
believed Â it Â was Â miles Â astern, Â and Â so Â kept
on, Â with Â this Â result. Â What Â was Â my Â sensa –
tions Â when Â I Â felt Â the Â reef?
“Well, Â it Â was Â as Â if Â a Â knife Â wasÂ Â going
through Â me. Â I Â did Â not Â know Â where Â I Â was,
and Â the Â shockÂ Â of Â finding Â myself Â on Â the
rocks, Â when Â I Â thought Â myself Â well Â at Â sea,
bewildered Â me Â for Â a Â few Â seconds. Â Then Â I
thought Â of Â the Â passengers Â and Â crew; Â of
myself Â I Â had Â no Â thought, Â except Â thatÂ Â I
desired Â to Â go Â down Â on Â those Â rocks Â and Â be
ground Â to Â fragments Â with Â my Â ship.
“I Â have Â sailed Â probably Â six Â times Â a Â year
for Â six Â years Â out Â yonder, Â going Â up Â and
down Â this Â coast. Â I Â knew Â that Â this Â was Â a
spot Â to Â shun, Â and Â that Â it Â was Â the Â burial
place Â of Â several Â vessels Â that Â had Â wandered
in Â too Â near Â the Â reefs. Â Can Â you Â not Â im –
agine Â how Â anxious Â I Â was Â when Â the Â fog
came Â down Â upon Â me, Â and Â a Â danger Â signal
horn Â on Â shore Â was Â sounding? Â I Â never
THE Â SAN Â FRANCISCO Â CALL, Â SUNDAY, Â JULY Â 19, Â 1896.
heard Â the Â Pigeon Â Point Â signal, Â though Â it
was Â so Â near. Â If Â I Â had Â caught Â a Â note Â of
that Â whistle,Â Â how Â quickly Â I Â would Â have
steered Â for Â the Â open Â ocean, Â and Â have Â pre –
vented Â this,” Â and Â the Â captain Â motioned
toward Â the Â hull Â that Â reeled Â uneasily
beneath Â our Â feet.
“This Â is Â my Â first Â mishap Â and Â no Â one Â can
know Â how Â itÂ Â takesÂ Â me,” Â he Â continued.
“My Â wife Â and Â my Â daughter, Â the Â latter Â of
whom Â has Â just Â graduated Â from Â the Â uni –
versity, Â are Â in Â Massachusetts. Â They Â will
immediately Â return; Â their Â pleasant Â visit –
ing Â is Â quickly Â brought Â to Â an Â end.
But Â I Â have Â one Â consolation, Â and Â that
is Â that Â no Â lives Â were Â lost. Â There Â is Â no Â sad –
ness Â in Â any Â home Â but Â my Â own. Â I Â wish
this Â vessel Â could Â be Â saved. Â She Â is Â too
good Â a Â ship Â to Â be Â lost. Â She Â was Â so Â perfect
in Â every Â way Â that Â every Â one Â who Â sailed Â in
her Â became Â attached Â to Â her.
“Even Â now Â the Â Colombia Â could Â be Â saved
if Â the Â proper Â appliances Â were Â at Â hand.
The Â water Â is Â deep Â around Â the Â narrow Â ledge
of Â rocks Â on Â which Â she Â lies Â so Â easily. Â Ves –
sels, Â lighters, Â pontoons Â of Â any Â draught
could Â be Â moored Â alongside Â of Â her Â and Â her
hull Â lifted Â clear. Â If Â she Â had Â gone Â ashore
within Â forty Â miles Â of Â New Â York Â or Â any
large Â Atlantic Â seaport Â she Â would Â not Â have
been Â abandoned Â to Â become Â a Â scrap-iron
heap Â on Â the Â beach. Â When Â somebody Â pro –
vides Â a Â modern Â and Â effective Â wrecking
outfit Â the Â Pacific Â coast Â will Â cease Â to Â be Â a
graveyard Â for Â ships.”