Eerie Nautical Discoveries Underneath the Golden Gate Bridge

Rosemary Giles
Photo Credit: Jane Tyska/ Digital First Media/ East Bay Times/ Getty Images/ cropped

It was 2014 when a team of researchers with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), who study American waterways and marine science, turned their attention away from ecosystems and water health to focus on something which would turn out to be far eerier: the strait of water under and around the Golden Gate Bridge.

The water in this area ranges greatly in depth. Near Alcatraz, the depth is around 100 feet, whereas the water closer to the bridge has been recorded as deeper than 300 feet. In water that deep, especially in an area with such a lengthy history of shipping and travel, NOAA made it their goal to uncover anything they could about the various shipwrecks hidden there.

Beginning the research

The NOAA team began their search by taking sonar scans of the area to the west of the Golden Gate Bridge. According to the director of Maritime Heritage for the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, who was also involved in the project, they were “looking at an area that was a funnel to the busiest and most important American port on the Pacific Coast.”

Poster board showing the sonar taken by NOAA.
A display of sonar images shows the found shipwreck City of Chester in San Francisco, California. (Photo Credit: Michael Macor/ San Francisco Chronicle/ Getty Images)

This means the area would have had lots of nautical traffic and a high number of shipwrecks. The team conducted their search over the course of five days, although the project as a whole was set to span two years. After looking at the scans, they decided that there were eight areas that they wanted to investigate further as potential shipwreck sites.

Poster board with sonar images and ship images.
National Park Service Historian Stephen Haller near the display of photos and sonar images of the found shipwreck City of Chester along with the steamer Oceanic. (Photo Credit: Michael Macor/ San Francisco Chronicle/ Getty Images)

As it turned out, half of them were. The next step was to use a remotely operated vehicle at each of the sites to get further information on each ship. Now it was a matter of finding out the names of the ships, where they came from, and how they wound up in the waters underneath the Golden Gate Bridge.

Noonday

One of the ships that the NOAA team believe they discovered was a clipper called Noonday. Although the vessel isn’t entirely identifiable, it was the right size and in the right location to be the ship. It was originally made for a Bostonian merchant, Henry Hastings, and sank on only its fourth voyage. This was quite an old wreck, as it sank in 1863 after hitting a rock.

USS Enterprise aircraft carrier traveling under the Golden Gate Bridge.
Aerial view of the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise passing beneath the Golden Gate Bridge upon its return from an eight-month deployment. (Photo Credit: CORBIS/ Getty Images)
Person standing on a beach while looking at the Golden Gate Bridge covered in fog.
A man fishes on a beach near the Golden Gate Bridge, showing the characteristic fog. (Photo Credit: Tayfun Coskun/ Anadolu Agency/ Getty Images)

Prior to that, it was used to transport both men and supplies during the California Gold Rush. When it sank, the men were able to get to safety but the cargo was lost forever. People have certainly tried to recover it, but with no luck. The rock that sunk the ship has even been nicknamed “Noonday Rock.”

SS Selja

Another ship that was investigated was SS Selja. This was a 380-foot-long steam freighter that traveled between the Pacific Northwest, China, and Japan. It was known for primarily transporting flour and lumber. It sank on November 22, 1910 after colliding with a steamer, SS Beaver, near Point Reyes, California.

Black and white photo of a group of boats traveling on the water with the Golden Gate Bridge in the background.
N.S. Savannah, the world’s first nuclear-powered merchant ship, is escorted by San Francisco’s Great Golden Fleet” of pleasure craft, with the Golden Gate Bridge in the background. (Photo Credit: Bettmann/ Getty Images)
Golden Gate Bridge peaking through heavy fog.
Golden Gate Bridge shrouded in fog, something that ships frequently had to deal with and caused many ship wrecks. (Photo Credit: Stephen Lam/ San Francisco Chronicle/ Getty Images)

After the ship sank, it was included as part of a legal case made before the Supreme Court which focused on the “rule of the road” for boats. Ultimately it was ruled that the owner of Beaver and Selja were equally negligible. Selja was easily accessible to the researcher team and they were able to get a much better look at it than some of the other discoveries that they made.

USS Conestoga 

While they were conducting their research in 2014, the team discovered the wreck of a tugboat which they had not anticipated to find, and therefore had no record of. In 2015, however, they were able to figure out exactly which ship it was. It matched the description of the USS Conestoga which had simply disappeared in 1921.

Front of a boat underwater covered in barnacles.
Stern view of the shipwrecked USS Conestoga shipwreck. (Photo Credit: NOAA Office of National Marine Sanctuaries/ Wikimedia Commons/ Public Domain)
Sonar image of the USS Conestoga.
The wreck of the U.S. Navy tugboat USS Conestoga seen on sonar in at a depth of 185 feet in the waters of the Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary in California. (Photo Credit: National Museum of the U.S. Navy/ Wikimedia Commons/ Public Domain)

The ship was used for duty in the First World War. The US Navy continued to use her until she sank. There was a crew of 56 men on board when it left Mare Island, and it disappeared due to unknown reasons.

SS City of Chester

SS City of Chester was also identified by the NOAA team, but this was before they began their official study of the area. Although not quite as old as Noonday, City of Chester was still over 100 years old. It was a steamboat that sank on August 22, 1888, after being impaled by the SS Oceanic which had just arrived in the area from Asia.

Container ship traveling over the water towards the Golden Gate Bridge.
Container ship traverses the Golden Gate into San Francisco Bay, California. (Photo Credit: Smith Collection/ Gado/ Getty Images)
View looking down at the entrance to San Fransisco Bay with the Golden Gate Bridge.
A view of the Golden Gate Bridge and the entrance into San Fransisco Bay. (Photo Credit: Justin Sullivan/ Getty Images)

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The ship sank in only six minutes, where it settled sitting upright. Sadly, sixteen men went down with the ship. When the research team discovered the ship on sonar, it was found in mud, 216 feet deep, with the gaping hole that sank the ship still clearly visible to the researchers. Although it sank very close to “Golden Gate,” the area where the bridge is now located, the wreck was forgotten for 120 years.