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Ship parts poke through sand at Ocean Beac


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Posted by on May 07, 2007 at 22:41:32:

-masted freighter went aground in 1878 -- last appeared in 1980

The sea, a thing of infinite mystery, was up to its mysterious ways Monday on San Francisco's Ocean Beach.

At high noon, in the middle of low tide, two large pieces of a wrecked 19th century clipper ship decided to poke out above the sand and reveal their long-hidden selves to the world.

It was a little piece of maritime history and a great big puzzle. Just the thing for a beachcomber to ponder on a warm and sunny spring day, instead of going to work.

"I don't know what happened here, but it's interesting,'' said lifeguard Sean Scallan, who got out of his dune buggy to check the wreckage, all the while keeping an eye on the nearby swimmers, that being what lifeguards do.

The visible parts of the shipwreck were nothing more than two 10-foot-long arrangements of lumber in the shape of a V, poking about a foot or so above the shoreline near the end of Noriega Street, and separated by about 200 feet of sand. One V was the bow of the ship and the other V was the stern.

That was it. Everything else was up to the imaginations of passers-by.

"It's a mystery,'' said Gloria Riordan, who was walking on the beach with her Labrador retriever, Jasmine. "What happened to all the people? Did they survive?''

Jasmine sniffed at the wreckage and, respectful of the maritime heritage of San Francisco, elected to do what dogs do a few yards away instead.

A letter carrier on her lunch break came over to look at the lumber and ponder whether the ship or the post office was in worse shape. And a surfer paused long enough to declare the wreckage to be "awesome.''

"It's incredible, after all these years, to see it come up out of the sand,'' said Timo Leahy, with his blue surfboard under his arm. "I wonder if there's a treasure chest down there, somewhere.''

"Maybe it was a pirate ship,'' said a little girl, who was playing with a bucket and shovel.

Actually, a historian for the Golden Gate National Recreation Area said the wreckage was surely that of the three-masted clipper ship King Philip, which was built in Maine in 1856. According to the records, which are frequently less romantic than the speculation, the ship spent much of its career carrying bird manure fertilizer around the world. In its last years, it carried lumber from the Pacific Northwest to San Francisco.

On Jan. 25, 1878, it was towed by a tug through the Golden Gate, then laid anchor to allow the tug to assist a nearby vessel in distress, according to historian Stephen Haller. The anchor didn't hold, however, and the King Philip drifted onto the sand at Ocean Beach, where it foundered.

Fortunately, everyone got off safely, which could be why the King Philip never got the fuss made over it as did a certain other vessel that hit an iceberg 34 years later.

The King Philip made a brief appearance in 1980, Haller said, when El Niņo currents washed away an unusually large amount of sand. But no one had seen the ship since.

And the sea being the fickle creature it is, the wreck may be gone again at any moment. So, Haller said, better go visit soon. And don't disturb anything, he said, because it's not respectful and anyway there's no buried treasure.

"It's kind of comforting to see the King Philip again,'' Haller said. "It reminds you that the sea is a dangerous place and very unforgiving of human error.''



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