Search for the wreck at Horseshoe Cove

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Posted by on September 18, 2005 at 11:40:24:

Divers seek source of 19th-century porcelain shards found at Horseshoe Cove in possible shipwreck off coast

For decades, shards of blue and white porcelain have washed up on the beach in Horseshoe Cove, where they've been collected by workers at the University of California's Bodega Marine Lab.

This week, six divers from the lab and the state Department of Parks and Recreation went looking for the source, most likely a "dog-hole schooner" wrecked offshore.

"We believe it is a schooner, a two- or three-masted sailing ship that went up and down the coast trading," said Breck Parkman, a parks department archaeologist.

The divers scoured an area just outside the cove. They found a Victorian-era window sash weight and an electric surge protector but no schooner.

Although the dive Thursday didn't find the source of the shards, it eliminated a large section of ocean. It also suggests the ship wrecked closer to shore, perhaps while trying to get inside the cove, said Henry Fastenau, the lab's diving safety instructor.

The small blue and white chips appear to have been made in the late 1800s in Japan, using an ink transfer process to put designs of egrets and geometric patterns on what were bowls, plates, cups and saucers.

The ships sailing the coast at that time, and carrying that type of porcelain as cargo, were known as dog-hole schooners, 80- to 120-foot boats that were hardware stores for isolated North Coast communities.

The boats were highly maneuverable and the crews adept at putting into the small coves - the dog holes - along the coast, such as Albion, Point Arena, Fort Ross, Mendocino and Fort Bragg, bringing mercantile goods and supplies from San Francisco and carrying out lumber and farm produce.

There are a few known shipwrecks near the cove. But it's just as likely the shards are from a wreck that isn't documented, since there have been more than 12,000 wrecks along the California coast, said John Foster, underwater archaeologist for state parks.

"It is a very unforgiving coast. You got in too close, there was no way to keep the vessel off the rocks," Foster said. "It claimed a lot of ships."

Horseshoe Cove, named for its U-shape, is about 100 yards across and protected by a shallow reef.

Both the cove and the area around the lab are part of a preserve that is closed to the public.

But for decades, lab employees have spent lunch hours and spare time combing the cove beach, collecting about 1,500 of the shards.

On Thursday, with the divers just offshore, preserve steward Jackie Sones walked the Horseshoe Cove beach and, within about 10 minutes, found a dime-sized shard.

"I'll be here to look for shells and find one," Sones said. "You never know what turns up."

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