Dredging unearths historical anchors

By Adam Spencer, The Triplicate January 06, 2014 02:41 pm

This anchor, one of several that were raised to the surface last summer in Crescent City Harbor, appears to be the type that was most popular from 1850 to 1880.
This anchor, one of several that were raised to the surface last summer in Crescent City Harbor, appears to be the type that was most popular from 1850 to 1880. Del Norte Triplicate / Bryant Anderson
They date back to a time when steamships visited here in the 1800s; harbor now plans to display them

Pieces of Crescent City Harbor’s history were salvaged from the port’s muddy depths last summer, and the harbor district is making plans to showcase the ancient anchors.

They were found during dredging of more than 170,000 cubic yards of material from the outer boat basin using a clam-shell scoop.

Most of the anchors appear to be from World War II-era military surplus, which was very common to have in the years after the war, according to harbormaster/CEO Richard Young.

One stands out from the pack and is believed to have originated sometime during the very beginning of white settlement in Del Norte County: 1850 to 1880.

A rendering of the area that became Crescent City Harbor.
A rendering of the area that became Crescent City Harbor. Courtesy of Del Norte Historical Society
David Howe, of the Institute of Maritime History, said that the larger anchor “appears to be one of Trotman’s modifications to the Porter anchor, that enjoyed brief popularity in the mid-19th century — say 1850 to 1880,” in an e-mail to harbor engineers who had inquired about the discovery.

Porter anchors were developed around 1850 and were unique for their use of a pivoting hinge connecting the arms of the anchor to the shank. This improvement was considered the most effective development for anchors in its time because there was less chance of the anchor’s rope getting tangled on parts of the anchor not lodged in the ground since it would be folded against the shank.

The Trotman modification had more of a curve to the anchor’s arms to make sure it bit into the hardest bottom and wider palms on the arms for anchoring in soft ground.

“They were less likely to foul their rodes and get pulled out backwards than the older Admiralty pattern, but they were soon superceded by stockless designs that were more reliable and much easier to stow on board ship,” said Howe in the e-mail.

It seems odd to imagine the type of large ships that would use these anchors in Crescent City Harbor, but it was a popular safe harbor for shipping vessels for decades.

It was not uncommon to have large steamships anchor in Crescent City. In 1855, the 923-ton steamship America was transporting the 21st U.S. Infantry (132 men) to Puget Sound and was anchored in Crescent City Harbor when the destroyer caught fire and burned to a charred skeleton. Three cannons were salvaged from the steamer America and placed on what is now called Battery Point, which is how the sea stack got its name. They were later stolen.

Schooners off the coast of Crescent City in the town’s early days.
Schooners off the coast of Crescent City in the town’s early days. Courtesy of Del Norte Historical Society
The Del Norte County Harbor Commission of 1925 penned a letter to the United States Congressional Rivers and Harbors Committee explaining why the area deserved federal improvements:

“Its entire absence of a bar permits passing vessels to seek safety or refuge in times of storm or great stress of weather.”

In 1914, the commission sent a letter to the Army Board of Engineers for Rivers and Waters that said, “Nowhere between San Francisco to the south and Puget Sound on the North is there a harbor without an entrance depth of 32 feet or without a bar except at Crescent City.”

The port’s breakwater was started in 1920 and extended to 6,000 feet in the 1950s, but an inner boat basin wasn’t completed until 1974, forcing ships to anchor in the open harbor waters.  Sometimes anchors would be abandoned or ropes would break, leaving them on the bottom to be discovered by thorough dredging in 2013.

Harbor officials hope to use the pieces as decorative focal points around the port, which fits with the goal of attracting more tourists and new businesses. Now that the $54 million reconstruction of the harbor’s inner boat basin is complete, harbor officials are looking forward to this goal being the main focus.

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