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Pomona Underwater Survey

Schooners, Steamers and Spilled Cargo:
A Preliminary Underwater Survey of Ft. Ross Cove, California


Setting and Maritime History
A review of the Maritime Museum files in San Francisco and State Library records in Sacramento indicated that up to 8 vessels had sunk in the vicinity of Ft. Ross Cove. The largest and most spectacular was the Pomona. She was a steel-hulled passenger steamer, called the "Pride of the Coaster Fleet", 225 ft long with a beam of 33 1/2 ft and a displacement of 1,264 tons. On March 17, 1908, with a load of freight and 88 passengers, she was heading north from San Francisco. There was a brisk wind and choppy sea so the captain was hugging the shore in an effort to minimize passenger discomfort. He got too close. About 6:00 p.m. the ship struck a rock a few miles south of Ft. Ross Reef. Water poured in through a gaping hole in her hull so Capt. Swansen attempted to beach her in the Cove. As she approached, however, she struck the wash rock and foundered. She remained on the rock for the 6 months and, after several unsuccessful salvage attempts, slipped off into the Cove.

Survey Results
...the hulk of the steel-hulled Pomona lay in 40 - 60 ft of water and was oriented NE-SW just inside the wash rock. The wreckage consisted of a large jumble of I-beams and superstructure on a rock substrate. Her bow lies 25 ft inside the wash rock that claimed her in 1908. The wreck was twice dynamited as a navigational hazard so her hull plating is blown away, but the vessel's configuration is clearly visible.

The Pomona's most striking archaeological feature is her drive train. The boiler room is intact, her engine was salvaged, but the large ring gear, drive shaft and bearings are in place. The drive shaft measures 12 in. in diameter, solid bronze, and extends almost 60 ft from the boiler aft to where the srew was blown away for salvage. Two pieces of unmarked white ironstone were the only personal artifacts seen; low visibility and heavy surge prevented a through and systematic search.

The wreckage extends 700 ft along the bottom. It has been colonized by marine organisms, especially bull kelp (Nereocystis leutkeana), which favors the wreckage to the extent that its floating heads mark the wreck's location during the calmer summer and fall months.

The swim-search resulted in the discovery of a large anchor that was once part of the 19th century mooring system for timber chute loading. The anchor has a length of 6 ft and measures 4 ft between its spade-shaped flukes. It was wedged between 2 large boulders, so it appears to be intentionally set as a mooring anchor. A 10-ft length of 2-in chain was found adjacent.

The swim-search also located numerous metal fragments of unrecognizable function in the mooring area. This may be scattered debris from the exploding Pomona or it may possibly be the widely scattered wreckage of an earlier vessel such as the J. Eppinger. A major source of metallic debris may also be cargo spill.