Shipwrecks--Visitors from the Sea

Baja Bernie - 6-15-2007 at 06:30 PM

From Mi Baja No Hurry No Worry

The old timer’s in La Salina know that, on a foggy night, the cove at Angel’s Camp looks enough like the entrance to Ensenada Bay to fool the skipper’s of many a ship. The first shipwreck I saw was a beautiful, old, wooden, sailing schooner that had sailed into the clutches of those monster lava rocks just south of the beach. Its rigging had been torn away and lay dangling over the port side. The incoming tide caused it to continually smash against the side of the stricken boat. Finally, someone cut it loose and it floated away and onto the beach. The ship was never to move from those vicious rocks. The Lady was locked solid. This wreck occurred during a very foggy night in April of 1969. A work of art she, had been, until that terrible night. Her deck was of solid teakwood, the portholes solid brass, and her pilothouse sported gimbaled brass lanterns as running lights.

When the Insurance Company was notified they dispatched a Maritime Surveyor, from Long Beach California, to determine if she was worth salvaging. After a few hours of study he determined that it would not be possible to float her off those clutching rocks. She was written off as a total loss.

A few days later we watched, from the comfort of the Cantina, as many antlike creatures appeared and began creeping from rock to rock. Soon they were able to climb aboard that doomed old schooner. With the aide of binoculars saw that many Mexican men were using various pieces of old lumber to create a walkway from the shore to the side of the ship. By the end of the first day they had removed all of the fancy brass fixtures. Next the teakwood deck was torn up, piece-by-piece, and carted to the shore along with the wheelhouse. The next morning, at low tide, they returned to dismantle the ships’ diesel engine and its drive shaft. All of this heavy equipment was manhandled over slippery, wave tossed, rocks and onto the beach. Trip after trip! The men worked like this for several days until only the ribs of the once beautiful schooner could be seen through the waves. They were forced to stop their salvage work with each incoming tide.

I’ve often wondered what happened to those gimbaled brass lanterns!
The next shipwreck occurred just south of Salsipiduedes (literally get out if you can). The cliffs here are some of the steepest, most dangerous, and rugged anywhere in Baja. A Mexican Naval Captain ran his Destroyer at full speed up onto the pebble-covered shore at the base of these giant vertical cliffs. He and several of his officers were last seen climbing those cliffs as they disappeared into the hills north of Ensenada. No wonder they were in such a hurry to get lost! That destroyer represented one seventh of the entire Mexican Navy! The ship rested at the base of the cliffs for several years. Finally, the waves battered it into nothing but a large rust stain. That was in the early 70’s and you could see it easily from the toll road if you knew where to look.

The next visit was from a Japanese tramp steamer, the Uno Maru. It ran aground about a hundred yards south of the Cantina, about where the entrance to the Marina is now. This old rusty bucket was high and dry on the beach. It provided great theatre for those of us who watched the several rescue attempts. We had front row seats as we sipped our drinks in the warmth and comfort of the Cantina.

Day one found the Japanese Captain making his way to the Cantina in an attempt to determine where he and his ship were. He thought they were somewhere in Todas Santos (All Saints) Bay. When he found he was in a place called La Salina he cussed for a while in his broken English and then he decided, ‘what the hell’ and ordered a drink. He had a few more before he returned to his ship to radio his location to the Port Captain in Ensenada.

Day two opened with two small, ocean going, tugs approaching shore at high tide. They placed tow cables onto the grounded ship and labored mightily to free it from the sand. It was sitting in about two feet of water. They pulled and pulled to no avail.

We all laughed and chanted, “I think I can, I think I can.” After working for several hours to free the ship a cable from one of the tubs suddenly snapped with a loud twang and wrapped itself around the propeller of the other tug.

The powerless tug began drifting helplessly closer toward the beach. Was she going end up next to the grounded steamer? No! Quick action by the crew of the first tug pulled her away. Giving up for the day they headed back to Ensenada.

Day three found the beach full of people just milling around the solidly stuck freighter. Some of them were shouting back and forth with members of the crew.

Day four opened with an extremely high tide anticipated for 1 o’clock. At 10 o’clock the two small tugs returned with a large, monster, ocean-going tug. They all worked to get lines to the stranded ship. When the incoming tide caused the old freighter to move they all began to pull. They would pull, then let the steamer wallow about, and then pull again. This went on for a couple of hours. At last! With a great sucking sound the streamer wallowed slowly out to sea. This was in the mid 1980’s.

Several years later I was talking to one of my Mexican friends and I learned something about the Japanese ship which none of us were aware while she lie upon our beach. The Mexican guys had found that part of the cargo consisted of numerous cases of ‘Sake.’ They had traded lobsters, mussels, and clams for cases and cases of ‘Sake’ a Japanese rice wine.

Back in the late 1800’s large wooden rafts were used to ferry produce, cows, etc. from Oregon and Washington to San Francisco and points south. These rafts were pulled by ocean going paddle wheelers. The rafts often broke loose and the remains of several of them have shown up on the beaches between Clams Beach, north of La Salina and Angel’s Camp directly to the south. Most of the remains were just bits of wood and great steel spike like nails that were buried in the sand.

While dredging for the Marina they found a complete skeleton of one of those old breakaway rafts buried in the sand. They anticipate using it as a centerpiece for the Main Entrance to the Marina.

Several small powerboats have littered the beach over the past few years and most of us believe that these boats had been used to deliver drugs for trans-shipment north. The last of these to hit the beach came ashore directly in front of the Cantina.

The story goes that the guy who waded ashore from this wreck had been seen, further north, hauling bulky packages from his boat to the shore in a rubber dingy. A woman had been waiting for him with a four-wheel vehicle on the beach, just north of the Baja Ensenada RV Park. Anyway, his powerboat broke anchor and he lost his dinghy as he returned to his boat. The next thing we knew his boat was bouncing along southward in the surf. It left pieces of itself from the trailer park to the north jetty.

The guy scrambled through the surf and ran up to the Cantina. He was soaking wet and exhausted from his battle with the ocean. Ramon bought him a couple of drinks to warm him up. Suddenly, his teeth still chattering, he bolted from the Cantina and ran back down the beach and splashed out to his grounded boat. He spent several minutes looking for something. Shortly after he returned to Cantina he simply disappeared. The story became embellished to the point that it had him and his lady friend leaving the area with $27,000 in cash.

The boat had neither name nor any identifying numbers. The salvage of this boat was left to persons who will remain unnamed. The Cummings Diesel Engine now powers a Mexican big rig. The solid brass propeller has been turned into a wonderful coffee table.

Various other items are here and there. The remains of this large powerboat bounced around the beach for a few weeks before Mother Nature cleaned up the mess. This was in the late 1990’s. I wonder how many ships will visit us in the 21st century.

Bruce R Leech - 6-15-2007 at 06:51 PM

good storys all Bernie thanks Il ove storys of the sea.

FARASHA - 6-16-2007 at 04:38 PM

YES BERNIE, interesting Stories - if the Beaches could Talk - !!
Thank You - for digging them out! >f<

DENNIS - 6-16-2007 at 06:49 PM

Bernie ----

I remember the Navy ship. A destroyer escort if I recall correctly. At the time, it was too isolated to even make a restaurant out of it. It just wasted away. Which reminds me, I would really enjoy hearing the full story of the A.P. Panama. I bet the city of Ensenada made a killing on that one.

Thanks again, Bernie.

Crusoe - 6-17-2007 at 08:54 AM

Thanks for the wonderful stories Bernie.......Over the years after walking many, many isolated beachs in Baja and finding some very puzzeling items one can become an addicted, dedicated "Beachcomber". Great fun and its almost free!! One very intersestig spot is Playa Malarmo west out to Punta Loco and west from there. Cant wait to get back there!!! ++C++:biggrin:

kellychapman - 6-18-2007 at 07:43 PM

love your story......
thanks bernie

Mexitron - 6-18-2007 at 08:29 PM

Thanks Bernie--great to hear those stories...wouldn't it be something to do an archeological dig down at Malarrimo Beach? Imagine what they could dig up there.

Baja Bernie - 6-18-2007 at 10:18 PM

Yeah! Always wished I could have been with Mike Mc Mahan when he discovered it.................If anyone has not seen his books.............Check them out, "Baja.........There it is" and "Adventures in Baja."

dean miller - 6-18-2007 at 11:36 PM


As always you spin a great tale. Enjoyable exciting reading.

Reminds me of the episode of the "Tampico" grounded off Punta Cabras, northern Baja, near San Vincente in late 1950s --in the summer of 1957 -8. As it ground to a slow halt it's bottom was ripped out as it spilled its cargo of crude oil essentially contaminating the entire cove for several years

It also slowly disappeared via the action of the offical salvores, the ocean's wave action of and the natives quest for useable items.

We begin "diving" it, actually free diving/spear fishing around it about a year or so after it ran a ground, probably late 1950s or early 1960s. It was a very productive area for --believe it or not WSB! A number were taken, of course via free diving.

By mid 1960s it was becoming dangerous to dive due to wave action and the jagged metal of the wreck so it was abandoned as a Baja dive destination.

Today nothing is visable of the once huge 300 feet plus long boat. However, the cove which she grounded is now known as Tampico Cove,but sadly several residences of the cove I spoke with were unaware of the orgin of the cove's name and that some where in front of their cove was the remains of a once huge ocean going ship.



Baja Bernie - 6-19-2007 at 08:01 AM

It is a terribly reality that so much of history is lost to Indifference, with a capital "I", by so many. I believe that is why a lot of folk turn to writing just as I have.

Just the word Tampico makes me smile and wish to fly off to someplace 'different,' exciting, and fresh and clear. What a word.

Goggle ship wrecks in Baja and you come up with almost nothing and yet the members of this wonderful board are aware of many............A shame the wrecks cannot shout out to us in the quiet of the night.