SS Monte Carlo

Gambling ship and former concrete hulled freighter wrecked on Coronado Island on New Year's Day 1937.
by Matthew Anderson


Year Built

1921

Year Sank

1937

Depth

25 ft (7.6 m)

Difficulty Level

Novice-Intermediate


SS Monte Carlo

Wreck Location

Monte Carlo is a very rare example of a very accessible shipwreck easy for anyone to visit. The wreck lies in extremely shallow water or on the beach itself depending on tidal movements, southwest of the Hotel Del Coronado and in front of Coronado Shores condos on Coronado Island near San Diego, California. The superstructure and almost all internal furnishings were looted or salvaged over 80 years ago. The deck itself is remarkably intact with several crew openings and cargo hatches visible and the deck can be walked on by anyone at low tide. It is likely the entire hull is intact, being made of durable concrete and being guarded by the sand its buried in. How much of the wreck is visible not only depends on tidal conditions but how much is buried by sand, which is known to vary depending on the years and weather.

 

~ GPS Shipwreck Location ~
Latitude:   32° 40' 26.4756" N      Longitude:   -117° 10' 22.9368" W

Description

SS McKittrick was built in 1921 in Wilmington, North Carolina for the United States government, originally intended as an "Emergency Fleet" concrete hulled merchant ship named the Old North State for World War I. Due to war's end, half of the fleet was cancelled and the other half still under construction were sold off to civilian owners and operators. McKittrick, which was one of the constructed ships, was sold off to the Associated Oil Company to become an oil tanker. In 1932, she was purchased by Mafia interests and re-named Monte CarloMonte Carlo was demobilized and rebuilt into a gambling and prostitution ship, anchored off Coronado Island in International waters, since gambling and prostitution were illegal in California. Smaller pleasure craft would transport patrons from San Diego's downtown to the Monte Carlo. On New Year's Day 1937, the Monte Carlo was blown ashore and wrecked. Her owners, being criminals with an illegal gambling ship, never claimed ownership. The wreck was salvaged over time, including the twin masts original aft superstructure and smokestack from her life as the oil tanker McKittrick. Whether her propeller, steam engine or boilers remain intact is unknown. It is possible these artifacts were removed or salvaged during either her conversion to an illegal gambling ship or the subsequent wreck salvage in 1937. It is rumored $150,000 US worth of silver dollars lay within unsalvaged gambling machines deep inside the wreck as calimed by former salvager Bud Bernhard, who had previously salvaged the wreck for silver dollars as a child.

In December 2015, I visited San Diego with my family and we made an evening trip at low tide to view the Monte Carlo. My parents didn't expect to see anything and thought the ship wouldn't be there. We stopped at the location where the ship supposedly was but saw nothing save for a few small tidal pools and strange "rock" formations sticking out of the water. Upon closer inspection I came to realize it was a weathered segment of Monte Carlo's reinforced concrete deck. Further inspection revealed small cargo or crew hatches submerged in tidal pools. Sand Dollars were moving about happily within the tidal pools leaving long tracks in the sand behind them. I soon came into contact with part of the sterncastle on the ship's starboard side. The concrete had weathered to where the rebar was sticking out. I tried to look for remnants of where the ship's original superstructure and smokestack would have been, but whatever was there was buried by sand or I very clumsily misidentified. Near the water's edge, I came across what appeared to be a rock. Digging around it revealed it to be an old metal bollard, once used to secure a mooring line from the ship to a dock or pier. During the dig, I came across a giant clam, the size of a softball I might add. Digging up the poor thing impressed my Dad, who immediately placed the dislocated mollusk into one of Monte Carlo's cargo hatches, acting as a tidal pool. Where most would have imagined the gambling ship, I tried to imagine the concrete oil tanker McKittrick, in all its strange but interesting beauty being a class example of the rare but historically important Emergency Fleet concrete ship of World War I. Her life as McKittrick is often overlooked by almost all who have interacted or studied Monte Carlo. In the past I had visited a shipwreck in Washington state; the passenger steamship Catala, but at the time of my visit, she was being scrapped and removed from the beach, forever off limits from the public. Monte Carlo was therefore my first true experience with a shipwreck and an invaluable one at that, considering I was able to come face to face with an EFC concrete vessel in the flesh.

Footnotes

Photograph of the Monte Carlo Wreck
Article about the Monte Carlo

McKittrick/Monte Carlo was part of a series of ships built of concrete for the U.S. Military in the late 1910s early 1920s. During World War I, steel was a highly sought after material needed for warships and other high priority military equipment. Reinforced concrete was an easy to construct, strong and cheap alternative to steel. President Wilson approved the construction of an "Emergency Fleet" of 24 ships in 1918. Only 12 were finished, all after the war, and sold to commercial operators. Many ended up as fishing piers, breakwaters and shipwrecks. Only one is still afloat as a Powell River breakwater in British Columbia; the Peralta.




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