SS Santa Rosa

Coastal passenger liner wrecked off the coast of California in 1911.
by Matthew Anderson


Year Built

1884

Year Sank

1911

Depth

8 ft (2.3 m)

Difficulty Level

Advanced


SS Santa Rosa

Wreck Location

Santa Rosa's remains lie twisted and broken off Saddle Rock near Point Arguello, California. Due to constant abuse from wind and waves, the ship's remains are no longer visible above water. She lies north of the Point Arguello lighthouse in around 10 to 25 feet of water at the base of La Honda Canyon just north of Destroyer Rock. The wreck of the similar passenger steamship Harvard lies just north of the Santa Rosa. The wreck of Santa Rosa to my knowledge has never been dived or documented since the grounding in 1911. The geography around point Arguello is known for being a very treacherous area that has laid claim to many ships over the last century giving an assortment of ships from different eras, designs and uses to explore, though most are likely destroyed beyond most recognition as is the case with the Harvard.

~ GPS Shipwreck Location ~
Latitude:   34° 36' 31.6008" N      Longitude:   -120° 38' 20.5008" W

Description

The Santa Rosa was built in 1884 by the Delaware Iron Ship Building and Engine Works of John Roach and Sons in Chester, Pennsylvania for the Pacific Coast Steamship Company by the Oregon Improvement Company and was to be owned by the Oregon Railway and Navigation Company. She sported three iron masts and twin smokestacks, had a single 15 foot diameter four bladed Hirsch propeller and was driven by a compound condensing steam engine driven by four double ended Scotch type boilers. Her keel was 326.5 feet long with her overall length including structures above water being 345 feet long. By design, she appeared to have been intended as a larger version of the OR&N steamship Columbia but just as advanced and grand.

Santa Rosa was the subject of a lawsuit by the Oregon Improvement Company against John Roach & Sons shortly after delivery in 1884. The Improvement company had been the party that had ordered the ship and had paid for it. OR&N and Pacific Coast Stemaship Company officials found the ship was poorly constructed and didn't meet specifications and refused to pay the shipyard due to this. The contract for her construction specified Santa Rosa was to have accommodations for 200 cabin class passengers and 500 steerage. Upon delivery, she only had accommodations for 170 cabin class and 30 steerage. Costly retrofits were performed after the ship arrived in San Francisco increasing the amount of steerage acommodations and providing previously non-existent sleeping acommodations for the ship's officers. The donkey boiler also had to be re-positioned, railings added to several exterior decks and extra lifeboats fitted to correctly accommodate the number of passengers aboard. A settlement was reached out of court by all parties and the Oregon Improvement Company was forced to pay reparations to OR&N. OR&N also surrendered ownership of the vessel completely to the Pacific Coast Steamship Company.

(Santa Rosa flying the Pacific Coast Steamship Company's house flag at her dock.)

Following the settlement, Santa Rosa was placed on the route between San Francisco and San Diego completely within the state of California with stops in Harford, Santa Barbara and San Pedro (the port of entry for Los Angeles). She replaced the older steamship Orizaba. She also ran frequently alongside the OR&N owned vessel Queen of the Pacific, also operating for the Pacific Coast Steamship Company. They were further joined by the steamship City of Pueblo in 1888. Santa Rosa was hailed as a liked vessel, but not one passengers would be terribly excited over traveling upon. In 1892, Santa Cruz Island was added to the list of stopovers upon Santa Rosa's route. As well as passengers, Santa Rosa also delivered cargo to her destinations. The service would continue without much incident for the next 19 years on more than one thousand voyages.

On July 6, 1911, Santa Rosa departed San Francisco for the last time under command of Captain J.O. Faria carrying 200 passengers. In her holds she had 78 tons of cargo bound for San Diego. As was normal Practice, Santa Rosa was to keep extremely close to the coastline and not stray too far out to sea. That evening, the ship became shrouded in the thick fog notoriously known to occur on the Pacific coastline. Only five and a half years earlier in late January 1906, Pacific Coast Steamship Company's other vessel, the Valencia had run aground and wrecked off Vancouver Island in similar weather. Captain Faria decided to retire and left command of the Santa Rosa to his third officer E.J. Thomas. Making a fatal error, Thomas mistook the light of a railroad maintenance crew on the cliffs for the Point Arguello Lighthouse. He turned the ship to head southeast into the Santa Cruz channel. In reality, the Lighthouse was still several miles south of where the ship was. Santa Rosa ran aground at Saddle Rock. Captain Faria awakened.


(Santa Rosa broken in half aground, her passengers and crew safely ashore.)

After assessing the situation, the Santa Rosa, aground in calm seas with no wind, was in no danger. The Captain then used the ship's new Marconi wireless transmitter to the Pacific Coast Steamship Company's main office over the next seven hours. The waves grew more intense as time passed with Captain Faria still trying to determine salvage prices with nearby rescue ships and the company. Other steamships, now at the scene to aid the Santa Rosa, began to rotate the ship to face the waves stern-first. During the maneuver there was a loud bang and the tow cable snapped. The sea was now washing over the Santa Rosa's stern. The crew launched a lifeboat to try and establish a landline, but was turned over after launch killing four of its occupants. These would be the only fatalities in the incident thankfully enough. Finally, the sea had pounded Santa Rosa hard enough that she broke in half with a tremendous upheaval. The second smokestack broke off and fell away into the Pacific. Thankfully the crew was able to get all the passengers to shore alive despite the continuous difficulty when launching the lifeboats. In a post-wreck trial, Captain Faria was suspended for a year as was Third Officer Thomas after being found responsible for the disaster.

Footnotes

In the 1880s, the Pacific Coast Steamship Company was majority owned by the Oregon Improvement Company, which was also the parent corporation to the Oregon Railway and Navigation Company. OR&N ran the "northern routes" of steamships out of Puget Sound as well as from San Francisco and Portland via Astoria which included the famous steamship Columbia. Pacific Coast Steamship Company operated routes going south of San Francisco to Los Angeles, San Diego and other neighboring communities. In my research over the ownership of the Santa Rosa which is shown to be unclear, I believe the OR&N financial records and New York court cases state she was originally intended to be owned by the Oregon Railway and Navigation Company on behalf of its sister company the Pacific Coast Steamship Company similar to the Queen of the Pacific, but following the legal settlement with John Roach, ended up being wholly owned by Pacific Coast.




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