Long Marine Laboratory

Gary Griggs, our ocean backyard: Shipwrecks in the sanctuary

The Active stranded on Its Beach in 1876
Photo Santa Cruz Natural History Museum 

From The Sant Cruz Sentinel

On the night of Oct. 1, 1924, the combination of high seas and a course too close to the shoreline put the La Feliz on the rocks directly in front of where Long Marine Laboratory exists today.

The 100-ton vessel was carrying canned sardines from Monterey to San Francisco when she wrecked. Local residents drove out to the top of the 30-foot bluff and used their headlights to illuminate the ship and help rescue the crew of 13.

The mast was removed, leaned against the cliff and used with a block and tackle to recover the cargo of sardines as well as equipment from the ship.

Somewhat surprisingly, comparing photographs of the shipwreck with the site today, neither the rocky shelf where the ship was grounded nor the cliff has changed much in the subsequent 86 years.

Standing today on the deck of the Seymour Marine Discovery Center at Long Marine Laboratory, you can see what looks like a tilted telephone pole, rising from the shoreline and extending up above the cliff top.

Amazingly, this is the mast of the La Feliz, still standing proudly, 86 years later.

While 2,000 feet away at Natural Bridges, two of the three arches have collapsed over the years; the cliff in front of the Marine Discovery Center remains intact.

One important reason for this difference is the presence of a very hard rock platform in the Santa Cruz mudstone at the base of the cliff.

The very resistant rock that impaled the La Feliz has protected its mast and also buffered the adjacent cliffs from direct wave attack. On low tides you can also see the remains of the ship's drive shaft on the beach just east of the mast.

The La Feliz wasn't the only local shipwreck. Forty-eight years earlier in October 1876, the Active, a 92-foot schooner, went aground on Its Beach just below the old lighthouse.