Adventure Aboard The Steamship Colombia In 1896, Part II

By the time the new steamship Colombia (sailing from Central America to San Francisco) neared Pigeon Point lighthouse, south of Pescadero, the fog was thick–so soupy that it was hard to tell whether it was dawn or dusk.

A foghorn moaned regularly and thinking he knew the route well, the coffee importer Carlos B. Lastreto warne Capt. Clark, the steamer’s captain, that they were fast approaching Pigeon Point–although the fog made it impossible to actually see the lighthouse.

Evidently Capt. Clark thought otherwise. He was convinced the foghorn they heard came from another ship–and Clark briskly walked away, terminating their discussion.

Still sensing trouble, Lastreto wandered forward where he met an old acquaintance, a Pacific Mail Line representative. The two men did not speak but exchanged troubled glances as the heavy gray mist cut off all view of the sea.

When Lastreto heard the repeated distinct sound of the foghorn, this time closer yet, he tensed. The two men turned toward each other, once again without exchanging a word, then walked to opposite sides of the deck expecting the worst.

As the horn blew louder still, grim visions filled Lastreto’s mind. Perhaps seeking safety from what was to come, he headed back to his cabin.

Simultaneously, Capt. Clark realized that the Colombia was indeed in trouble–and that she was heading straight into the breakers.

“Reverse engines,” shouted the captain.

When Lastreto opened the door of his first-class cabin, there was a terrific lurch and the sound of metal grinding on rock as he was flung against the doorjamb.

It was 8 a.m. on July 14, 1896 when the Colombia’s bow creaked to its final resting place on the rocky bottom–300 yards from the beach. The Colombia had become wedged between teh rocky claws of a reef half a mile from the Pigeon Point lighthouse.

From the beach, the steamers appeared to be lying at anchor but upon closer inspection, a serrated tear had ripped across the bow–and seawater flooded through the open gash and into the forward compartment.

An avalanche of small limes tumbled out of barrels and floated toward shore.

…To Be Continued…

Photo: courtesy San Mateo County History Museum. Please visit the new galleries at the museum located in the historic Redwood City Courthouse.