Adventure Aboard The Steamship Colombia In 1896, Part I


Coffee importer Carlos B. Lastreto frequently commuted aboard Pacific Mail steamers between Central America and San Francisco, all safe, smooth passages. But in the summer of 1896 that changed as the voyage on the new steamer Colombia turned into an odyssey for the future Atherton resident.

Even before Lastreto arrived at the dock in Guatemala to board the Colombia, the prominent 29-year-old San Francisco businessman experienced a dose of bad luck. The evening prior to the voyage his wharfside hotel burst into flames. His clothing, documents and cash burned in the conflagration and spectators suppressed their smiles as the young American fled in his pajamas.

Fortunately, Lastreto had checked a small trunk with the steamship company. Neatly packed in the suitcase were a pair of shiny dancing pumps and a dress suit. During the early part of the sea adventure that awaited him, this formal outfit was all he had to wear, drawing gentle jibes from his fellow passengers and the Colombia’s friendly crew. Lastreto was becoming accustomed to sidelong glances.

From the beginning the weather inhibited the Colombia’s maiden voyage as the journey was immersed in a thick blanket of fog from Cape St. Lucas, at the southern tip of Baja California, until the voyage’s unexpected conclusion. The water and sky seamlessly blended into a wall and vision was limited to 100 yards as the Colombia inched up the California coast to San Francisco, its scheduled destination.

By the time the Colombia neared Pigeon Point lighthouse, south of Pescadero, it was almost 8 a.m. but without a clock it was hard to tell the precise time of day.

…To be continued…