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California Shipwrecks- The San Juan

By Edited Feb 22, 2016 1 3

I'm going to tell you about a famous shipwreck, a famous California Shipwreck. When you mention shipwrecks, most people think of the Spanish Galleons filled with gold off the coast of Florida. However, California has a few shipwrecks that might excite treasure hunters and the following is a good example of one.

One of California's most discussed shipwrecks, the nightmare of the San Juan, took place in the shipping lanes off Pigeon Point on August 29, 1929.

Sailing under the banner of the Los Angeles-San Francisco Navigation Company, the veteran liner was on a routine coastal run when a blanket of fog dropped over the central California coast. With the combination of darkness and fog making navigation extremely hazardous, all ships in the area proceeded with extreme caution. Suddenly the eerie sound of an approaching ship's whistle was heard by those on the bridge of the San Juan. As normal precautions were taken aboard the two oncoming vessels, the whistle signals were somehow misunderstood. It resulted in a horrible crash and a death-dealing blow to the San Juan. Nearly cutting the aged liner in half, the bow of the Standard Oil Company tanker, S.C.T. Dodd, is described as having inflicted a gash in the San Juan's side large enough to drive a train through.

Suffering major damage to his own ship, the captain of the Dodd reversed engines and slowly backed away from the stricken liner. As the Dodd cleared the San Juan, and water rushed in to fill the void, the severely damaged liner and her shaken passengers had only five minutes to abandon ship. Unfortunately the great majority of the passengers aboard the San Juan were asleep in their cabins at the time of the collision. As the water rushed in and filled the bowels of the ship, these unfortunate people were trapped in their cabins, and had no chance to escape.

Those who did manage to reach the deck had no time to lower lifeboats or search out lifejackets as the crippled liner started to sink. Panicked passengers and crew members began jumping into the water hoping to grab on to anything that would keep them afloat.

As the San Juan sunk into the Pacific, the crippled Dodd stood by to pick up survivors. In addition to the Dodd, the steamer Munami, which had been in the vicinity at the time of the collision, picked up a distress signal and hurried to the scene of the accident. After searching the area through out the night and into the next day, the final tally of survivors totaled 42. This final tally left 87 people unaccounted for.

According to a noted authority on lost Pacific treasures, the hull of the 283 foot San Juan lies at a depth of twelve fathoms, (72 feet), and contains approximately $200,000 in unclaimed treasure, mostly gold and silver. With this in mind, the tale of the San Juan may hold the key to instant wealth for some future treasure seeker. In the end though, the loss of this coastal liner has gone down in history as one of California's worst maritime disasters.

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Comments

Dec 5, 2009 7:01am
Ernie
I really enjoy reading about shipwrecks. Thanks for the interesting article
Dec 5, 2009 11:30am
gourownway
Thanks for the comment Ernie glad you like it.
Aug 23, 2010 7:18pm
kfcf
Very nice article. Capt. Asplund of the San Juan was my maternal
grandfather. I was about 3 months old when the wreck happened. I still have the front page of the newspaper describing the event.
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