SS Winfield Scott - History - Last Voyage

Last Voyage

Winfield Scott, bound for Panama, departed from San Francisco on the morning of 1 December 1853. In addition to her complement of passengers and crew, the ship was transporting a shipment of gold bullion worth an estimated US$2 million. The ship's progress was slowed in the afternoon when repairs had to be made to a leaking boiler, but she had resumed course at full speed. Later that evening, Captain Simon F. Blunt navigated the ship into the Santa Barbara Channel in an effort to save time. Captain Blunt knew the channel well, having helped survey the area a few years previously.

At approximately 11 PM, the ship encountered a heavy fog, and ran aground into Middle Anacapa Island (approximately 400 miles from port). Her speed at the time of the wreck was estimated at 10 knots (19 km/h; 12 mph). She struck the island bow first, and when Capt. Blunt attempted to back away the stern was struck, removing the ship's rudder. With the ship taking on massive amounts of water and unable to steer, all aboard began scrambling for land. The ship was completely evacuated in approximately two hours, and the survivors spent the first night camped on a pinnacle of rock that measured 50 by 25 yards (46 by 23 m). The next day they moved to a larger piece of land on the island.

One of the passengers, Asa Cyrus Call, recalled "a terrible jar and crashing of timbers...I hurried out on deck, where my attention was fixed on a wall of towering cliffs, the tops of which were hidden by the fog and darkness and appeared about to fall and crush us. All round was the loud booming of angry breakers surging about invisible rocks."

On 2 December, the steamship SS California, returning to San Francisco from Panama, was alerted to the presence of the wreck survivors by the smoke of a gun they had fired. California rescued the women and children, as well as Winfield Scott's complement of gold bullion. On 9 December California returned to rescue the remaining passengers. The crew stayed behind to recover as much of the mail and passenger luggage as possible. Winfield Scott, however, had sustained too much damage and was left in the waters of the channel.

Read more about this topic:  SS Winfield Scott, History

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