19th Century Shipwreck Found off Golden Gate Bridge

Posted by Eric Haun
Thursday, April 24, 2014
2013 Multi-beam sonar profile view of the shipwreck SS City of Chester (Credit: NOAA Office of Coast Survey NRT6)

NOAA announced it has found the underwater wreck of the passenger steamer City of Chester, which sank in 1888 in a collision in dense fog near where the Golden Gate Bridge stands today. The announcement was made during a press event at Gulf of Farallones National Marine Sanctuary’s San Francisco headquarters at Crissy Field. NOAA’s predecessor agency first located ship in 1890, two years after it sank.

The story of City of Chester will be shared with the public in a future waterfront exhibit NOAA will place at the sanctuary office at Crissy Field. The office is the former U.S. life saving service station built in 1890 in response to the City of Chester incident.

The 202-foot long steamship City of Chester had just left San Francisco and was headed up the California coast to Eureka with 90 passengers on August 22, 1888, when around 10 a.m. it was struck by the steamer Oceanic. Impaled on Oceanic, which was arriving from Asia, City of Chester remained afloat for six minutes before sinking. Sixteen people died in the accident.

The rediscovery of the wreck restores an important historical link to San Francisco’s early Chinese-American community. Reports at the time initially criticized Oceanic’s Chinese crew in the racially charged atmosphere of the times. Criticisms turned to praise, however, when the bravery of the crew in rescuing many of City of Chester’s passengers was revealed. The wreck was then largely forgotten.

“Discoveries like this remind us that the waters off our shores are museums that speak to powerful events, in this case not only that tragic wreck, but to a time when racism and anger were set aside by the heroism of a crew who acted in the best traditions of the sea,” said James Delgado, director of maritime heritage for NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, whose past work has included documenting historic wrecks in California.

In May 2013, NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey Navigational Response Team 6 (NRT6), in a 28-foot boat equipped with sonar, rediscovered what they thought was the City of Chester while surveying another nearby shipwreck, the freighter Fernstream, which sank after a collision in 1952. Delgado asked the NRT6 team to extend their survey to try and find the sunken steamer.

After working with historic data provided by NOAA historians, the Coast Survey team conducted a multi-beam sonar survey and a sonar target the right size and shape was found. The team spent nearly nine months sorting through the data. A follow-up side-scan sonar survey confirmed that the target was City of Chester, sitting upright, shrouded in mud, 216 feet deep at the edge of a small undersea shoal. High-resolution sonar imagery clearly defined the hull, rising some 18 feet from the seabed, and the fatal gash on the vessel’s port side.

This NOAA team was not the first to find the shipwreck. It was 125 years earlier that the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey, NOAA’s predecessor agency which was charged with responsibility for charting the nation’s coasts and harbors, believed it had located the City of Chester in early September 1888 by dragging a wire from the tugboat Redmond to snag the hulk.

A veteran salvage diver of the time, Capt. Robert Whitelaw, also claimed to have relocated the wreck, sending a hard-hat diver down more than 200 feet in 1890 to report City of Chester nearly cut in two, with the tide running through the cut “like a millrace.” No attempt was made to raise the wreck then and there are no plans to do so today.

“Connecting to the history of the Chester is sad in one way, but we were also connecting to scientific history on a different level," said NOAA NRT6 team leader Laura Pagano. "Using our high-tech multibeam echo sounder to re-discover a wreck originally found over a century ago – by Coast Surveyors dragging a wire across the seafloor – is immensely fulfilling. We are equally proud to have provided information on an important link to the rich heritage of the San Francisco Chinese American community.”

Today, it is a protected site and a grave belonging to the state of California. “Whether we see them or not, wrecks like City of Chester should be remembered today and in future generations,” said NOAA’s Delgado.

Source: NOAA / noaa.gov
 

  • SS City of Chester (Credit: San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park K01.2.571PL)

    SS City of Chester (Credit: San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park K01.2.571PL)

  • Newspaper illustration of the collision between RMS Oceanic and SS City of Chester (Credit: Illustration: San Francisco Chronicle)

    Newspaper illustration of the collision between RMS Oceanic and SS City of Chester (Credit: Illustration: San Francisco Chronicle)

  • Modern view of the Golden Gate Channel and approximate location of the SS City of Chester (Credit: Robert V. Schwemmer, NOAA National Marine Sanctuaries)

    Modern view of the Golden Gate Channel and approximate location of the SS City of Chester (Credit: Robert V. Schwemmer, NOAA National Marine Sanctuaries)

  • SS City of Chester (Credit: San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park K01.2.571PL)
  • Newspaper illustration of the collision between RMS Oceanic and SS City of Chester (Credit: Illustration: San Francisco Chronicle)
  • Modern view of the Golden Gate Channel and approximate location of the SS City of Chester (Credit: Robert V. Schwemmer, NOAA National Marine Sanctuaries)

Maritime Today


The Maritime Industry's original and most viewed E-News Service

Maritime Reporter May 2016 Digital Edition
FREE Maritime Reporter Subscription
Latest Maritime News    rss feeds

News

APM Terminals Bahrain Push for Safety, IT systems

Hidd, Khalifa Bin Salman Port, Bahrain - APM Terminals Bahrain, operators of Khalifa bin Salman Port (KBSP), has recently made significant advances in Safety performance

Seized Hanjin Shipping Vessel Resumes Operation in South Africa

Hanjin Paradip resume  its sailing from South Africa as talks continue with owner over unpaid charter fees. The ship had been detained in Richards Bay, South Africa

Deployment: The Transpacific Trade Steps Up To The Plate

In 2015, it was the Asia-Europe route which was the focus of changing deployment trends, says Clarksons Research.   This year, it is the Transpacific trade which

History

Fednav (Belgium) N.V. Celebrates its 50th Anniversary

Shortly after the inauguration of the Saint Lawrence Seaway in 1959, and the growth of grain exports that followed, bulk shipper Fednav realized that incoming steel

IACS Recommendations for Emergency Response

Following a further round of discussions on 'Places of Refuge' at the IMO last week, prompted by a submission from the EU Member States, the European Commission,

This Day In Naval History: May 26

1943 - USS Saury (SS 189) attacks a Japanese convoy south of Kyushu and sinks transport Kagi Maru, about 10 miles north of the Nansei Shoto. Also on this date,

Surveyors

Meet the Future Surveyor

Knut Ørbeck-Nilssen, CEO Maritime, DNV GL discusses the future of class   DNV GL is now integrated and fully armed to address the challenges of the day. Drones

ClassNK Updates Steel Ships Survey/Construction Guide

Classification society ClassNK has released printed versions of its 2016 Rules and Guidance for the Survey and Construction of Steel Ships.   ClassNK regularly

Returning to the Scene of the Shipwrecks

A participant in a diving field school last fall, graduate student Tori Kiefer is back to help a new set of students learn the joy of surveying shipwrecks.   Last fall,

 
 
Maritime Careers / Shipboard Positions Maritime Contracts Maritime Security Navigation Offshore Oil Pipelines Pod Propulsion Ship Electronics Ship Simulators Sonar
rss | archive | history | articles | privacy | contributors | top maritime news | about us | copyright | maritime magazines
maritime security news | shipbuilding news | maritime industry | shipping news | maritime reporting | workboats news | ship design | maritime business

Time taken: 0.1068 sec (9 req/sec)