Century-old shipwreck has Bay Area ties

The shipwreck of a historic U.S. Coast Guard cutter with ties to the Bay Area that sank at sea 100 years ago today has been located off the coast of Southern California, Coast Guard and National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration officials announced today.

Coast Guard Cutter McCulloch, a ship that served with Commodore George Dewey in the Battle of Manila Bay in 1898, was found in October by a research team under 300 feet of water off of Point Conception in Southern California.

The ship sank on June 13, 1917 after a collision with a passenger ship, the SS Governor. At the time of the collision the McCulloch was on its way back to Mare Island in Vallejo to be outfitted with bigger guns for use in World War I.

The entire crew of the McCulloch was rescued before the ship went down, but the acting water tender later died of his injuries.

Commissioned in 1897, the McCulloch was the largest cutter built at the time, and cost nearly $200,000. Powered by a steam engine and three masts rigged with sails, it had a cruising speed of 17 knots, and carried four 6-pound 3-inch rapid firing guns and one 15-inch torpedo tube.

In the Battle of Manila Bay, the McCulloch came under fire when soot in its funnel briefly caught fire, alerting the Spanish of the American fleet’s arrival.

Before the battle properly began, the ship suffered what was ultimately the only American casualty when the chief engineer collapsed of a heart attack in the overheated engine room.

After the war, the McCulloch was sent to Hong Kong to deliver news of the American victory, before eventually returning to its homeport of San Francisco, where it cruised the Pacific Coast from Mexico to Alaska.

“McCulloch and her crew were fine examples of the Coast Guard’s long-standing multi-mission success from a pivotal naval battle with Commodore Dewey, to safety patrols off the coast of California, to protecting fur seals in the Pribilof Islands in Alaska,” Rear Admiral Todd Sokalzuk, the commander of the 11th Coast Guard District, said in a statement.

The ship is protected by federal law and none of the artifacts at the site will be recovered. Plans have not yet been developed for further exploration of the shipwreck site.