Coast Guard Announces Discovery of Wrecked Cutter

The cutter McCulloch (USCG file image)

By The Maritime Executive 06-13-2017 09:05:14

On Tuesday, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the U.S. Coast Guard announced the discovery of the lost cutter McCulloch off the coast of California, one century after she was lost in a collision.

The Coast Guard Cutter McCulloch was discovered in October by a Coast Guard and NOAA research team in the Pacific Ocean off Point Conception in Southern California.Commissioned in 1897 as a cruising cutter for the U.S. Treasury’s Revenue Cutter Service, a predecessor of the Coast Guard.

At the time of her construction, McCulloch was the largest cutter built. The ship was equipped with a steam engine and three masts rigged with sails, giving her a cruising speed of 17 knots. Her armament included four six-pounder rapid firing guns and one 15-inch torpedo tube.

Among other career highlights, McCulloch was part of the U.S. Asiatic Squadron, which destroyed the Spanish Pacific fleet in the first major battle of the Spanish-American War. After she returned home, McCulloch patrolled out of San Francisco, cruising the Pacific Ocean from the Mexican border to Cape Blanco, Oregon. She also deployed to enforce fur seal regulations in the Pribilof Islands off Alaska and served as a floating courthouse for far-flung Alaskan towns.

On June 13, 1917, the McCulloch sank off Point Conception following a collision with the passenger steamship SS Governor in heavy fogMcCulloch’s crew entire crew was rescued and taken aboard the Governor, but one crewmember later died from injuries suffered in the collision.

McCulloch and her crew were fine examples of the Coast Guard’s long-standing multi-mission success from a pivotal naval battle with Commodore Dewey, to safety patrols off the coast of California, to protecting fur seals in the Pribilof Islands in Alaska,” said Rear Admiral Todd Sokalzuk, the commander of the 11th Coast Guard District. “The men and women who crew our newest cutters are inspired by the exploits of great ships and courageous crews like the McCulloch.”

Last October, a joint NOAA and Coast Guard training mission confirmed the location of McCulloch’s remains. Working off the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary’s research vessel Shearwater, the multi-agency science team from NOAA, National Park Service, and Coast Guard Dive Lockers Alameda and San Diego, deployed a remotely operated vehicle to survey and characterize the shipwreck. Coast Guard 11th District cutters Halibut and Blacktip provided vessel support.

Cameras mounted on the ROV revealed McCulloch on the seabed lying on its port side. The vessel’s wooden hull planking and decks have succumbed to wood-boring organisms, leaving behind the steel skeletal remains of its frames. 

During the ROV dives the team confirmed a number of features consistent with historic photographs and ship’s plans of McCulloch: the bronze 11-foot propeller; the steam engine and boilers; the engine room skylight; the anchor windlass and capstan; the 15-inch torpedo tube molded in the bow stem; the flying bridge and pilothouse helms; a number of deck skylights; a sounding machine; and three-pounder and six-pounder rapid firing guns arranged in sponsons mounted in the stern and the bow.

McCulloch is not located within a NOAA Marine Sanctuary, but the ship is U.S. government property and is protected under the Sunken Military Craft Act of 2004. No portion of any government wreck may be disturbed or removed.