Framework

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Sept. 9, 1923: U.S. Navy destroyers on rocks at Honda Point after running aground the night before.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: George Watson / Watson Photographic Archive

Sept. 9, 1923: One of the destroyers on rocks at Honda Point after running aground the night before. This photo was published in the Sept. 7, 1959 Los Angeles Times.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: U.S. Navy / Los Angeles Times Archive/UCLA

Sept. 9, 1923: U.S. Navy destroyers on rocks at Honda Point after running aground the night before. In foreground is the USS Chauncey (DD-296).

PHOTOGRAPH BY: U.S. Navy / Los Angeles Times Archive/UCLA

Sept. 9, 1923: U.S. Navy destroyers on rocks at Honda Point after running aground the night before.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: U.S. Navy / Los Angeles Times Archive/UCLA

Sept. 9, 1923: U.S. Navy destroyers on rocks at Honda Point after running aground the night before. The U.S.S. S. P. Lee (DD-310) sits in foreground.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: U.S. Navy / Los Angeles Times Archive/UCLA

Sept. 9, 1923: U.S. Navy destroyers on rocks at Honda Point after running aground the night before. This photo was published in the Sept. 7, 1959 Los Angeles Times.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: U.S. Navy / Los Angeles Times Archive/UCLA

A piece of wreckage, believed to be a section of a destroyer's bow, is all that remains of the seven destroyers that ran aground on the night of Sept. 8, 1923. This photo was published in the Sept. 7, 1959 Los Angeles Times.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Bill Murphy / Los Angeles Times Archive/UCLA

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23 sailors killed when U.S. Navy destroyers run aground at Honda Point

On Sept. 8, 1923, seven U.S. Navy destroyers ran aground at Honda Point, north of Santa Barbara. Twenty-three sailors lost their lives.

Fourteen ships of Destroyer Squadron 11 were en route from San Francisco to San Diego in a single column. A navigational error led the column onto the rocks at Honda Point, also known as Point Pedernales, about 60 miles north of Santa Barbara.

In an Oct. 7, 2001 story, staff writer Cecilia Rasmussen recalled the disaster:

…At the head of the column was the Delphy, under Lt. Cmdr. Donald D.T. Hunter and carrying Capt. Edward H. Watson, who was in command of the 14 destroyers. Behind the Delphy came the S.P. Lee, the Young, the Woodbury, the Nicholas, the Farragut, the Fuller, the Percival, the Somers, the Chauncey, the Kennedy, the Paul Hamilton, the Stoddert and the Thompson.

By nightfall, as fog thickened and the sea grew rough, the officers were unable to see landmarks and stars. Sonar had not yet been invented, and plotting by compass and speed, the officers calculated they were south of treacherous Point Arguello and Point Conception (named for the Immaculate Conception, not Concepcion) and in position to turn left into the Santa Barbara Channel.

At that moment, the flagship Delphy received a signal from a Navy radio station on Point Arguello, indicating it was still north of the landmark. But radio compass bearings were relatively new navigational aids at the time and not trusted by veteran mariners.
Also, the airwaves that night were confused with messages about another wreck — of the mail ship Cuba, 30 miles south on San Miguel Island.

The naval squadron’s officers conferred and decided they were correct about their position. Just before 9 p.m., the Delphy made a hard left turn to destruction — three miles north of the Point Arguello lighthouse. In a grimly disastrous procession, the other destroyers followed.

The Delphy went down and the S.P. Lee, second in the formation, was stuck fast on the reef. The third ship to go down was the Young, commanded by William Loundes Calhoun, a great-grandson of John C. Calhoun, who served as vice president under John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson.

“I was starting for the bridge when I felt a slight trembling,” the captain told a court of inquiry. “I dropped everything and went on the run. I reached the bridge in time to be sprawled by a terrific knock. I thought we’d been rammed.”

The Young grazed the Lee and then smashed into the rocky shelf before capsizing. Nineteen crewmen were trapped in their quarters below deck. Three others were lost at sea on a raft, while another drowned after being blinded by shattered glass. A cocker spaniel named Doctor, the mascot of the Young, went down with his ship. …

Rasmussen’s full story Love on the Rocks: a Haunted Coast Story is online.

This incident is also referred to as the Point Arguello Disaster.

The first photo is the above gallery was taken by staff photographer George Watson. Five of the photos were obtained from the U.S. Navy by staff photographer Bill Murphy for a 1959 Los Angeles Times story.

scott.harrison@latimes.com

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1 Comment

  1. September 9, 2014, 8:38 am

    It's called "Dead Reckoning" for a reason!

    By: dcarnathan@aol.com

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