Century-Old Sunken Schooner Found Near Los Angeles

Douglas Main, OurAmazingPlanet Staff Writer

The wreck of a 109-year-old schooner was discovered on the ocean floor near Los Angeles last year after two decades of searching, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced today (Oct. 23).

The ship, named the George E. Billings, hauled timber at the beginnings of the 1900s from the West Coast to Hawaii and Latin America. After briefly being turned into a sport-fishing barge, it was scuttled by its owner in 1941, according to a paper presented today at the California Islands Symposium in Ventura, Calif.

Archaeologists and historians who had been searching for the shipwreck finally found it in February 2011 off the coast of Santa Barbara Island, according to Robert Schwemmer, a NOAA maritime archaeologist.

The five-masted schooner was built in 1903 by the Hall Bros., a shipbuilding company, in Port Blakely, Wash.

After it was turned into a fishing barge, the owners were informed by the U.S. Coast Guard that they had to install bulkheads throughout the ship, or face a $500 per day fine, Schwemmer told OurAmazingPlanet. Instead of installing bulkheads, they decided to set it on fire and let it sink, he said.

A newspaper article from 1941 reported the owner towed the ship to an "island reef" but did not provide a name for the island. "So we have searched for the last 20 years using a photo from the newspaper article," Schwemmer said.

The explorers finally found the ship after deploying three dive teams in an area that matched the photo, he said. While most of the wooden hull is gone, iron and other metal components remain.

"Now we can write the final chapter of not only the largest, but the last sailing vessel built by the Hall Bros. during their 30-year career of designing some of the finest ships sailing the Pacific," Schwemmer said in a NOAA statement.

The ship was found in the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary, where more than 150 historic ships and aircraft have sunk beneath the waves. Only about 30 of these have been located and surveyed. These wrecks are protected by state and federal law; the remains of the Billings are owned by the state of California.

Reach Douglas Main at dmain@techmedianetwork.com. Follow him on Twitter @Douglas_Main. Follow OurAmazingPlanet on Twitter @OAPlanet. We're also on Facebook and Google+.

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