Charles F. Crocker

Other Names: Date of Sinking: c.1929
Rig/Type: 4 masted Barkentine Cause of Sinking: Cut down for movie work, beached and later burned
Length: 204' Breadth: 40' Tons: 762 Cargo: None
Built: 1890 in Alameda, California Location: Catalina Harbor
Hull Construction: Wood Coordinates:  See Catalina Harbor
Depth: 3-10'' Visibility: 1-3'

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After hearing rumors about wreckage in Catalina Harbor, divers decided to closer look at the harbor's bottom. A lone scout jumped off the boat and descended to the muddy bottom some 10 to 15 feet below. Swimming about, the diver soon discovered wood beams that still supported rows of brass hull spikes. Obviously, the diver had come across the bones of an old vessel. But which one?

During the 20's and 30's, movie companies were quick to snatch up old sailing vessels that could no longer compete with steam or a depressed economy, thus forming the so called "movie" or "Hollywood navy." Purchased at rock bottom prices, these obsolete vessels filled the silver screen with their masts, spars and billowing canvas. Once ordinary sailing vessels, these ships, barks, brigs, and brigantines were converted to resemble pirate ships, man-of-wars, and even the Bounty. Their destinies were controlled by a movie script, and these ships usually out-lived their usefulness with the completion of the picture. Some were not even fortunate enough to survive a movie. Many scripts called for spectacular fires, sinkings, or dismastings Such was the case of the Charles F. Crocker.

The Charles F. Crocker was built in 1890 in Alameda, California by C.G. White as a 4-masted barkentine. She measured 762 tons gross, 204 feet in length, and 40 feet in breadth. During her career, like most of the other Pacific schooners, she probably carried lumber and other goods up and down the coasts of Washington, Oregon, and California. On September 16 of 1926, her owner, W.C. Comyn, sold her to J. West (who also purchased the Irene and the W.F. Jewett) for use in the movies.  As of June 6, 1927, her managing owner was Tom White and her service was "Moving Pictures."

The former Director of the National Maritime Museum, Karl Kortum, received a letter from Capt. Cliff Weidemann in May of 1979, with information about the Charles F. Crocker:

The barkentine Charles F. Crocker was there with us for the movie making but we never got her under way. For all the sailing scenes we used the W.F. Jewett.

One of the scenes in the picture called for a hurricane. They tied the Jewett up alongside a dock at Catalina Island. On the dock they had big wooden tanks shaped something like old fashioned wash trays, that is with a slanted end. They would fill these with water and they over-balanced easily. They would tilt them up--another big sea was coming over the vessel! At the same time there were large klieg lights on the wharf which went on and off--the effect was supposed to be thunder and lighting.

Then they did something that just about broke my father's heart. The barkentine Charles F. Crocker was anchored at the Isthmus and believe it or nor, the silly bastards laid dynamite around her masts and they just blew the masts right out of her.

Everything went over the side and into the harbor. The water was so clear you could see all that rigging, masts, and yards under the surface. Mr. Wrigley's caretaker had a fit. "You've got to get that out of there, you've got to get that out of there," he said. The movie company was leasing some shore property from Wrigley, who owned all of the Island.

The Crocker was still a barkentine with a square-rigged foremast when this happened to her. There was no sail set when they blew the masts out. I suppose they just wanted a dismasted vessel. Because the afterdeck was filled with the debris from the dismasting, a scene was filmed with a lone figure on board waving for help, the flag upside down. We saw it in the rushes afterward. My father thought it was a terrible waste of a ship.

Abandoned after the movie, the Charles F. Crocker lay aground.

A letter from Mr. Bill Oleson to Capt. Harold Huycke dated Juy 15, 1982 also mentioned the wrecks of Catalina Harbor:

The year of the big South American Earthquake, (sometime back in the 1950's or 1960's) sent a tidal wave up Cat Harbor, played hob in this harbor and naturally at Catalina. Incredibly, it dislodged the old hulks and moved the Palmyra much farther inshore. Thereafter, a great deal more of the frame was visible at low tide and I would have like to save the one remaining rudder gudgeon and pintle (huge). Required more time that I could spare. The Crocker was afloat and free for a time and there was a proposal among boatman to tow her out. However before this was agreed upon, she swung around and grounded again at right angles to the Palmyra, the position indicated in my sketch. This accounts for the discrepancy with the parallel positions in the picture. (Editor Note: Gudgeon and pintles are the two pieces of a hinge that supported the rudder. They were made of brass.) At some unknown date (c.1938) the wrecks of the Ning Po, Charles F. Crocker, and the Palmyra were set afire. 

For more information, see Catalina Harbor.

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