Chapter 21: The Coburn Mystery

[This is from the original manuscript–and contains many more details than the final, edited version.]

Pressure to illuminate the hidden reefs off the coast of Pescadero intensified as more shipwrecks occurred. Lighthouse advocates argued that the heavy fog lured sailors toward the underwater hazards and a watery death. Public officials listened and lobbied the US government for a lighthouse.

A lighthouse would encourage commerce as well.

Captain Despeaux and 12 sailors drowned when the Sir John Franklin broke up soon after striking Pigeon Point in January 1865. The deaths so traumatized the local villagers that a plaque honoring the drowned men was planted on the cliffs above the point. Three weeks before Christmas 1866 the Coya was wrecked midway between Pigeon Point and Ano Nuevo***. Eight mangled bodies were found after being repeatedly smashed against the rocks that littered the shoreline. The Hellespont, carrying a load of coal bound for San Francisco, broke-up after striking the dark reefs in November 1868. Seven the crew survived but eleven, including the brave Captain Cornelius Soule (well known in San Francisco as the captain of the ‘Panama’) were missing and presumed dead.

The number of wrecks and preventable deaths gave lighthouse proponents the statistics needed to support their argument for a lighthouse–but by 1870 construction had not begun.

***Ano Nuevo, seven miles south of Pigeon Point, was the first promontory sighted by the Spanish explorer Sebastian Vizcaino on January 3, 1603. He named it “Ano Nuevo,” which means Point New Year.

From “Place Names of San Mateo County,” By Dr. Alan K. Brown (1975)

New Year’s Point “punta de Ano Nuevo,” the original form of the name, is first found in the coast pilot of Geronimo Martin Palacios, a member of the Vizcaino expedition: “at ten leagues [from Monterey] you will raise the punta del ano nuevo which is low and clear of rocks and the land full of trees, it is in thirty-seven and a half degrees’ latitude.” Vizcaino gave the name “on January 3, 1603, because it was the first promontory sighted in the new yar. It is one of the few names applied by early navigators which have lasted throughout the centuries for the same point” (Gudde). The Vizcaino expedition was responsible for the idea that the point was the north limit of Monterey bay (it does look that way from Monterey). Camacho y Brenes’ chart of 1785 therefore transferred the name to what is now Santa Cruz point, and called the original and Franklin points pt. Falsa de Ano nuevo (False New Years’ point)…Yet local usage was already too strongly in favor of the original point…

Between the 1790s and 1850s the name was usually shortened to la Punta in Santa Cruz, since the point was the nearest large one to the town. The form punta del Ano Nuevo (New Year point) is often mentioned nowadays, but itis merely a Land Commission clerk’s error. The present form of the name, the translation, was in use by 1853. The nautical charts, and after them most maps, have of course retained Ano Nuevo point: the name was on English charts in that form before American times, and the point is an important landfall.

This entry was posted in Coburn Mystery, Pescadero. Bookmark the permalink.