April 13, 1970: Gale force winds and 10-foot swells hammer the cruise ship La Jenelle off Port Hueneme, reducing in 23 minutes a million-dollar luxury liner into a salvage operation.
La Jenelle sat on the Port Hueneme beach for several years, until it could be dismantled. In an Aug. 6, 1977 article Times writer David White reported:
On April 13, 1970, the faded old Caribbean cruise ship La Jenelle broke loose from her moorings offshore and was driven by wind and sea onto state tidelands near the Port Hueneme harbor mouth.
She had been taken to Ventura County waters as a possible floating restaurant or convention center after years on the glamorous Miami-Bahamas run.
The sight of the 467-foot vessel rolling helplessly on her port side in the surf erased any chance her new owners had foreseen for her when they brought her through the Panama Canal from Miami.
One possible buyer had been the Indonesian government, which planned to pay $1 million for the ship and assign her to inter-island service in that nation.
But La Jenelle hit the beach in the storm the day before the Indonesians were to make that deal final.
The 12,500-ton ship was built in 1929 as the Arosa Star for Mediterranean service. Moved to the Miami-Bahamas run, she became the Bahama Star. During World War II, she carried troops to Europe and the Pacific.
After the war, she was back in Miami, resuming her pleasure cruises. In 1965, she rescued 489 of the passengers and crew of the Yarmouth Castle when that ship caught fire on the same run.
After new maritime regulations outdated her wooden structure, Blue Star Lines sold her to Western Steamship Co., which changed her name to La Jenelle and decided to move her to the Pacific Coast.
After the storm drove her ashore, her new owners went into bankruptcy.
The ship was sold and resold six times after being washed ashore, but no salvager could clear her from the beach. Faced with a continuing nuisance and hazard, Ventura County officials sought $1.4 million in state funds to turn the wreckage into a recreation facility.
After approval by the Legislature in 1972, a contractor began cutting off the rusty superstructure to deck level and dumping the scrap metal into the ocean a mile and a half away as a fish habitat.
The remainder of the hull was filled with rock and sand. A jetty was built around it to turn it into a 500-foot-long “pier” for fishermen and sunbathers. It also prevents sand erosion, which formerly troubled the beach.
The state had to spend only about half the $1.4 million appropriation.
Today, there is nothing to be seen of La Jenelle.
She’s come a long way from the Miami-Bahamas run.