Marine Operations and Equipment

Page 2

On January 27, 1939 in the early morning darkness during a dense fog the freighter Point Lobos enroute from Crockett, to the Encinal Terminal in Oakland rammed and sank the Western Pacific tug at the entrance to San Antonio Creek in the Oakland Estuary near the Coast Guard lighthouse. Under command of Captain E. W. Phillips, the vessel was owned by the Gulf Pacific Steamship Lines. The collision was so severe the Bogue was almost cut in two, the Point Lobos being only slightly damaged. This sinking forced the crew, fearing for their lives, to abandon ship and swim to shore. Injured in the crash were Howell Roberts, bargeman, and A. B. Nelson, a deckhand, both of San Francisco. They were taken to Merritt Hospital, where physicians said their injuries were not serious. The Point Lobos was known as a jinx ship. Several of her crew were killed or murdered, and she finally piled up on the rocks at Land's End, Golden Gate, the entrance to San Francisco Bay.

A lighted wreck buoy was placed on the sunken hull of the tugboat on January 31. The buoy was placed by the lighthouse division and would be maintained until the removal of the wreck. The light was a green flashing 40 candlepower lamp and stood 11 feet above the water surface.

Work of raising the tug began on March 6. The salvage operations, according to the United States Army Engineers, were to be completed by March 11. Several derrick barges performed the raising operations and during the time those operations were underway shipmasters were warned to pass the wreck on the Alameda side of the channel at reduced speeds so as not to create any more of a wash than possible. The tug was then towed to deep water and sunk so she wouldn't be a menace to navigation.

Western Pacific Tug Hercules. John Harder.
John Harder Photo.

Once a sea going tug, the all steel Hercules, with a gross tonnage of 409 tons was built by John H. Dialogue and Son in 1907 at Camden, New Jersey. The Hercules towed her sister ship Goliah all the way to San Francisco through the Straits of Magellan. She was ordered by the Shipowners and Merchants Tugboat Company to join the rest of their Red Stack fleet in San Francisco where she operated from 1907 to 1922, then for the Moore Drydock Co. who worked her the next two years.

Traveling up and down the pacific coast she could be found towing barges, sailing ships or large log rafts to various ports. This squat, clumsy-looking vessel officially numbered 20481 developed 1000 horsepower, had a hull length of 151 feet, a beam of 26 feet and carried 85,400 gallons of fuel oil with a cruising range of 21 days and a maximum speed of 10 knots.

Her triple expansion steam engine and deep draft made her fast and powerful and particularly suited for towing the big sailing ships of the time through the Golden Gate to safe berths in Bay harbors. A veteran of just about every kind of towboat task, the Hercules played an important role in construction of the Panama Canal, towing caisson locks constructed in the Bay Area's Union Iron Works yards. Originally built for sea duties there was bunk space for 18 and the capacity to carry provisions for 30 days. Usually carrying a crew of fifteen, life aboard in heavy seas could be uncomfortable at times due to the narrowness of the hull.

She was purchased in 1924 by Western Pacific from Moore Dry Dock Co. The Hercules could usually be found in the company of barge number 1 traveling back and forth across the bay unceremoniously delivering the barge for the loading and unloading of freight cars until 1962, when her boiler was condemned after a 55-year working career. Her entire working history was spent on the West Coast, with San Francisco her home port.

Towboat operator John Seaborn bought her from the railroad with the idea of refitting her with diesel power and putting her back to work. This was not done and she waited at a berth in the Oakland Estuary until Seaborn loaned her to the state and she was towed to a berth at Hyde Street Pier in 1972. Today she can be seen fully restored and operational at the San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park where she regularly steams the bay with a highly trained volunteer crew. In 1966 she was named a national landmark by President Lyndon Johnson.

Western Pacific Tug Humaconna.

Carrying official number 218071 the Humaconna came to Western Pacific as a replacement for the Virgil G. Bogue.
Built in Superior, Wisconsin in 1919 Humaconna had a steel hull with a length of 142 feet and a beam of 27½ feet. With a draft of 14.6 feet power came from two Scotch marine boilers powering reciprocating engines for a total of 1,250 horsepower. She weighed 418 gross tons and was used exclusively (along with the Hercules) in transporting car floats with W.P. freight traffic across San Francisco Bay between Oakland and San Francisco.

The origin of the name is intriguing and somewhat baffling. Two explanations have been offered. (1) Derived from "houma" (Houma and Chakchiuma Indian tribes of the Lower Mississippi), meaning red; and "conne," meaning boat: hence Humaconna could be Indian for "red canoe"; (2) a corrupted form of an Oneida Indian word meaning "big boat."

Records indicate that the name was one of a number furnished by Mrs. Woodrow Wilson to the Emergency Fleet Corporation for which the Humaconna was built by Whitney Bros. Construction Co., whose construction assets later were bought by Merritt Chapman & Scott Corporation, New York. The Humaconna was bought in 1922 by Merrill & Ring Lumber Co., and brought to Puget Sound, where it was used in towing lumber until its purchase by the WP in 1939 to replace the tug Virgil G. Boque.

Crew of Humaconna.
The Headlight.

The Humaconna had a fine record. At one time it towed three huge cigar shaped log rafts from the Columbia River to San Pedro, Calif., and at another time it towed an oil barge from Seattle to Alaska.

Shortly after the W.P. bought it, Mr. Edgar H. Lion, vice president of H. M. Newhall & Co., San Francisco marine underwriters, wrote to Mr. D. C. De Graff, W. P. general auditor: "It is very bad luck to change the name of a boat. I hope the Western Pacific will bear this in mind. Marine underwriters, like sailors, are extremely superstitious." So the Humaconna would bear the same name which was given it when christened on the Great Lakes.

Crews for each of the Tugs consisted of eight personnel, Captain, mate, chief engineer, fireman, oiler, deckhand and two bargemen. In addition, a cook was employed during the daytime on the Humaconna. Three crews, plus necessary relief personnel were assigned to the Humaconna, working on the basis of 12 hours on and 24 hours off. The Humaconna was used in around the clock service. Two crews were assigned to the Hercules, each working 8 hour shifts daily except Sundays, between 4:00 P.M. and 8:00 A.M.

The five stations for the marine division were the Western Pacific Mole in Oakland, Alameda Belt Line Slip in Alameda, 25th Street, Pier 36, and Powell Street in San Francisco. WP owned and operated the facilities at WP Mole in Oakland and 25th Street in San Francisco where WP yard crews would place and remove cars from the barges. At the Alameda Belt Line Slip, ABL crews placed and removed cars from the barges while similar work was performed by the State Belt Railroad crews at Pier 36 and Powell Street.

Original freight ferry slip.

Three switch engines were used in both Oakland and San Francisco to keep the loaded barges on the move. Pulling and loading a boat was quite an interesting as well as delicate operation.

In the loading and unloading of the car floats, three or four specially assigned flat cars, called boat flats, were used in front of the switch engine to eliminate the necessity of the engine moving onto the apron of the slip. The first car in the string of boat flats was equipped with running boards, similar to those found on locomotives. About 50% of the WP car float traffic was between the WP Mole and 25th Street.

Upon leaving 25 Street in San Francisco with a load of assorted freight cars lashed on her carfloat, about a half mile from the slip the tug and barge would make a sweeping curve and point straight in. There was a lot of skill required in maneuvering one of these outfits into the slip, but the captain’s were experienced at the game and could ease the barge into the slip and against the apron.

This apron was raised or lowered with a powerful electric motor and heavy counterbalances. At the right moment an attendant on shore would drop the apron which would automatically lock in place against the barge. Two barge-men would then secure it with heavy tackle so both the apron and barge could rise and lower with the swells.

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