One hundred years ago this week, the Coast Guard cutter MuCulloch, a world-traveled vessel stationed in San Francisco, collided with a passenger ship in the fog and sank to the ocean floor off the coast of Southern California. For almost a century, the ship was lost.
On Tuesday, the U.S. Coast Guard and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced that the McCulloch had been found, four miles off Pt. Conception, west of Santa Barbara.
Searching in the Deep
“It’s been decades in the works,” says Robert Schwemmer, the West Coast Regional Maritime Heritage Coordinator for NOAA. “To put the first eyes on the ship on the eve of its 100-year anniversary was very moving.”
A historian and archeologist, Schwemmer has been studying the McCulloch for three decades and always hoped to find the remains.
In 2013, maritime historian and shipwreck researcher Gary Fabien located a mass on the ocean floor using sonar. Suspecting that it might be the lost wreck, Fabien contacted Schwemmer with his hunch.
Years later, Schwemmer took the research vessel Shearwater over the potential wreck site. Using sonar, he saw high-relief images of the sea floor and a mass that could potentially be a wreck — but more importantly, he saw lots of fish.
“Fish are an indicator of habitat, and shipwrecks are great habitat,” he said.
By now, Schwemmer felt confident that there was indeed a wreck. But with its strong currents and heavy winds, Pt. Conception had always been a common place for shipwrecks. There was still a chance that the murky image was a wreck, but not the one Schwemmer was looking for. Optimistically, he contacted the Coast Guard and told them that he suspected he had found the cutter.