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La Jenelle

Other Names: Date of Sinking: April 13, 1970
Rig/Type: Cruise Ship Cause of Sinking: Stranding
Length: 466' Breadth: 60' Tons: 17,114 Cargo: None
Built:1930 as the Borinquen by the Bethlehem Shipbuilding Location: Port Hueneme
Corporation of Quincy, Mass
Depth: On shore as part of the breakwater. Visibility: N/A

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The La Jennelle wrecked off the coast of Port Hueneme.   Courtesy of Jim Cooluris.

The Fall of a Lucky Star
by Peter Howorth

On September 24, 1930, the luxury cruise ship Borinquen slid down the ways at the Bethlehem Shipbuilding Corporation of Quincy, Maine.  More than 1000 passengers could be accommodated in her spacious staterooms and offered a huge dining hall and an exquisite gambling salon. She began her working career on runs between Puerto Rico and New York until 1949, when she was sold to the Bull Steamship Company and renamed the Puerto Rico.  In 1954, she was sold to the Arosa Lines and renamed her the Arosa Star.  Six years later, she sold to the Eastern Shipping Corporation and was re-christened the Bahama Star. Now on runs between the Bahamas and Miami, she soon became a familiar sight to the Florida residents. When World War II broke out, she was drafted as a military transport. She gave service in the Baltic, the Mediterranean, and the Pacific, yet no aircraft ever strafed her decks, no warships ever pounded her, no submarines ever torpedoed her. She led a charmed life and soon earned her nickname of "Lucky Star." After the war she returned to work on the Bahama run. For two decades, she steamed back and forth, carrying untold thousands of passengers to the island resort.

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During this period, the Bahama Star managed to rescue 489 people from the burning Yarmouth Castle, another cruise ship. Tragically, 160 people perished in the blaze. In an aftermath, the maritime regulations pertaining to such ships were changed at the Geneva Convention of 1964, outlawing the building of super-structures in such vessels as the Bahama Star out of wood. The cost of complying with the new regulations proved too expensive, so the ship was sold to the Western Steamship Company. She was renamed again, this time La Jenelle. The new owners brought her to Port Hueneme, where they intended to sell her. Some say that plans were underway to make her a floating restaurant. Others claim she was to be sold to an Indonesian shipping firm, but neither plan materialized. By 1970, she was anchored outside the harbor to avoid expensive docking fees while efforts were made to find a buyer. On April 13, her luck ran out. That particular day was blustery, with a northwest gale ripping the tops off the waves. Seas broke everywhere, and nearly everyone was in port. La Jenelle's starboard anchor - the only one out – began to drag. There were only two crewmen aboard, and they were unable to stop her drift. Only 23 minutes Later, she struck the sandy beach west of the Port Hueneme breakwater her stern just missing the rocks. La Jenelle began to list as she took on water. The crew stayed aboard, attempting to pump her dry so she could be righted, but the seas were pouring in from many smashed portholes and windows making their efforts fruitless. A helicopter arrived to rescue them as the ship settled further into the sand. The La Jenelle proved to be quite an attraction. Crowds flocked to Silver Strand Beach to see the stranded behemoth. Surfers paddled out to the stricken ship to wander among passageways canted at impossible angles, reminiscent of the film, Poseidon Adventure. Salvers picked over her bones, tearing away loose brass hardware and anything else of value. Her sturdy plates began to buckle under the incessant pounding of the surf as one compartment after the next was destroyed. A fire, perhaps started by vandals, gutted her once proud interior. La Jenelle became a real hazard in time, for it was impossible to keep people off her. Eventually a souvenir hunter fell from the wreck and was drowned. By then, the owners had faded from the scene during the inevitable and endless litigation that seems to follow such an incident. A Navy team cut the top off the ship and brought in rocks to fill in the carcass. La Jenelle was transformed into a new arm for the Port Hueneme breakwater, an ignoble fate for a "lucky star."

The lower hull can now be seen as part of the breakwater.
One of the bow cleats lies in the rocks. A pump was found amongst the wreckage.

The La Jennelle at dock.

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