NOAA team reveals forgotten ghost ships off Golden Gate

San Francisco area divers provided valuable assistance to help identify long-lost wrecks.

A team of NOAA researchers confirmed today the discovery just outside San Francisco’s Golden Gate strait of the 1910 shipwreck SS Selja along with an unidentified early steam tugboat wreck labelled the “mystery wreck”. The researchers also located the 1863 wreck of the clipper ship Noonday, currently masked by mud and silt on the ocean floor.

These and other shipwreck investigations mark the first impression of a two-year project to locate, identify and obtain a better understanding of some of the estimated 300 wrecks in Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary, and the adjacent Golden Gate National Recreation Area.


Golden Gate National Recreation Area: Wikimedia
Golden Gate National Recreation Area: Wikimedia

“The waters of the sanctuary and the park are one of the great undersea museums in the nation,” said James Delgado, director of the Maritime Heritage for the Office of National Maritime Sanctuaries. “These wrecks tell the powerful story of the people who helped build California and opened America to the Pacific for nearly two centuries. Finding the remains of these ships links the past to the present.”


NOAA’s Office of National Maritime Sanctuaries and the U.S. National Park Service, which began researching the wrecks back in the 1980s, published the first detailed inventory and history of the submerged heritage of the region in 1990. Since 1990, Robert Schwemmer, project co-leader and NOAA maritime archaeologist, has conducted new research in archives around the world, and interviewed fishermen and pioneering wreck divers like Bruce and Robert Lanham of San Francisco.

The Lanham brothers have unveiled a number of historic Bay-area wrecks. Bruce Lanham joined the recent NOAA expedition, and with his brother led the NOAA team to a widely scattered wreck site they believed was the Selja. In 1910 the steamer Selja sank in a lethal collision, which featured prominently in a legal case that ultimately was argued before the U.S. Supreme Court over a key aspect of maritime law, the “rule of the road”.

“Bruce and Bob were crucial to the success of the mission as was volunteer Gary Fabian, who re-analysed hours NOAA sonar data to pinpoint wreck sites,” said Schwemmer.

One of the targets Fabian pointed out was the correct locations and size to be the clipper ship Noonday, lost in 1863 and part of the fleet of fast-sailing vessels that brought men and supplies to California during and after the Gold Rush. “Noonday Rock,” north of the Farallones, was named for the wreck.

As well as the newly identified ships, Vitad Pradith, a researcher with NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey Navigation Response Team 6, completed the first-ever sonar survey of the submerged portions of the wrecks of the tankers Frank H. Buck and Lyman Stewart. The engines of both vessels are visible at low tide off San Francisco’s Lands End, inside the waters of Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

“Buck and Stewart are probably the best known wrecks in the park,” said Stephen Haller, park historian, who joined the project team on this mission. “We now have a better understanding of how the two wrecks lie next to each other, and what has survived beneath the surface.”

THE NOAA team used remote controlled cameras and sensing equipment and will continue to analyse data from the recent dives, conduct additional research, and plan for the next phase. Brian Johnson, Gulf of the Farallones sanctuary department superintendent, said findings from current future research expeditions will be shared with the public.

“The shipwrecks off the Golden Gate are places to explore, discover and appreciate our country’s maritime cultural heritage,” Johnson said. “Through the study, protection and promotion of this diverse legacy, Americans can learn more about our shared past.”




Contributing Source: NOAA Headquarters

Header Image Source: WikiPedia


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