John Vonderlin: The Perils of Pescadero Point


Story from John Vonderlin
Email John ([email protected])
Hi June,
   Here’s a bit of weirdness connected to the Coastside that reminds me of the “Final Destination,” series of movies. Hopefully, you haven’t wasted your time watching any of them, so I’ll explain the reference. In each of the movies (3 so far,with a new 3D one being planned soon)  one of the main characters has a premonition of a horrible accident about to happen on the plane, the car or roller coaster they are on and freaks out causing them and a small group of friends to change plans at the last second. Of course the gruesome accidents do happen, but they survive. It seems most every large plane crash has a story like that, where somebody missed their flight for some reason and is a stunned survivor instead of another fatality. Only in the movies, the Devil, wants his due, and reclaims all the “lucky” survivors one by one in a series of bizarre accidents. Yawn. But, we had something like that happen on Pescadero Point.
   This came up when I was talking to Meg tonight about the New York’s beaching. She broke out “Scalawags, Shipwrecks, etc” and started reading to me some of the names of the shipwrecks in the Pescadero area. Two of them, the Tamiahua and the West Mahwah had gone aground on Pescadero Point. These were big ships. The Tamiahua, which went aground in 1930, was the largest oil tanker of its time at 500 feet and 10,000+ tons. The West Mahwah, which was stranded in 1937, was 5,700 gross tons. Eventually both were dragged of the rocks, towed to San Francisco and repaired.
   While researching the wrecks for any interesting local angles, beyond what’s in the book, I discovered this. The Tamiahua was sold to the Atlantic Refining  Company and renamed the W.D. Anderson. But, it could not escape its destiny of joining Davey Jones. It was sunk by a U-boat in Feb, 1942 off of Jupiter, Florida. Only one man survived, by jumping off the fantail into the water, that was soon covered with burning oil from its 133,000 barrel cargo.
   The West Mahwah, was sold to the Norwegian Merchant Fleet, and was renamed the Norse King. It was sunk by a U-boat off the coast of Europe, with the loss of all hands, in December, 1942. It had been hit by a torpedo on the 28th and all hands had abandoned ship. When it didn’t sink, they reboarded and began limping towards the Azores. The next day another U-boat torpedoed and shelled it until it sank. None of its crew were every found.
   Given that over 2,700 boats were sunk by U-boats in W.W. II, that the two stranded on Pescadero Point should both be sunk doesn’t seem such an odd coincidence. Until you read that the 2,700 ships sunk by U-boats represented only about 5% of the ships built in W.W. II., let alone the many like these two built decades before.
   It’s an oft-repeated superstition of sailors that changing a boat’s name brings bad luck. You  might remember this quote from one of my favorite books of childhood, Treasure Island”: 
1881 Stevenson, Treasure Island, He was hanged like a dog, and sun-dried like the rest, at Corso Castle. That was Roberts’ men, that was, and comed of changing names to their ships – Royal Fortune, and so on. Now what a ship was christened, so let her stay, I say.
    Apparently running aground at Pescadero Point and then changing your name pretty much seals the deal. Enjoy. John
[Images below: the The Tamiahua (1930) and the West Mahwash (1937)
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