Lying somewhere between 180 to 200 feet of water is the wreck of what was once boasted as "the world's largest fishing barge," the Sacramento. Once a 2,200-ton ferry, the Sacramento spent 92 years afloat until she sank off Redondo Beach in 1968.
Built in San Francisco in 1877 for Southern Pacific, the Sacramento was launched as the Newark. Measuring 268 feet in length and 42 in breadth, she was powered by a single cylinder steam engine. With her boilers up to pressure, the engine and its 1,400 horses rocked her walking beam twice for every revolution of her 35-foot side wheels, churning the waters of San Francisco Bay. These giant wheels proved to be a helmsman's worst nightmare. Because of their great size the wheels were hard to stop, resulting in the ramming down of many ferry slips. For years the Newark made her hourly trips across the bay. For a small fee, she ferried cars and passengers between Oakland and San Francisco. Her most notable journey was when she carried soldiers from the Spanish American War on the last leg of their journey home to awaiting loved ones.
By 1921, the 42 years of service had taken their toll on the old ferry. Her hull planks had worked and warped badly, and she appeared destined for major reconstruction or scrap. Southern Pacific decided on the former, and the rebuilding effort was carried out to such an extent that it was referred to as "Jacking up the whistle and sliding a new boat underneath. " In 1923, with only fifty feet of the Newark's original keel in her structure, the "new" vessel slid down the ways of the Southern Pacific yard as the Sacramento. As the last ferry built (or rebuilt) by Southern Pacific, it was said to be the finest. With a seating capacity -of 1,900, it was also the largest vessel of the Southern Pacific ferry fleet. Although it was outdated in the 1920's, her owners decided to keep her original steam engine, and the Sacramento continued her service on 'Frisco Bay with other ferries (including the Melrose, known to wreck divers as the "White Point wreck") for a few decades more. However, the completion of the bay bridges marked the and of the San Francisco Bay ferry, and in 1954 after 75 years of service, the Sacramento was retired from service and made its final journey to the scrap yard.
On December of 1955, Frank Hale, part owner and president of Redondo Sport Fishing, made a trip to San Francisco to look over the old ferry. Hale found the ferrys low profile, large deck, and wide beam suitable for use as a barge, so he purchased the Sacramento for $5,000. On New Year's Day, 1956, the Sacramento began its tow down to Long Beach. However, when the Sacramento cleared the Golden Gate, it met heavy seas and began to take on water. Doubts were running high among the tug's crew as to whether or not the Sacramento, a smooth water bay vessel, would ever survive its journey in the Pacific. Three days later, the crew of the tug decided to give it a try and slowly towed the barge down the coast for four days until finally reaching Los Angeles.
Upon its arrival, the listing Sacramento was pumped dry and dry docked so that it could begin its modification for use a fishing barge. Railing was built on both of her open double ends and her massive paddle wheels were cut down. During the salvage of her engines back in the scrap yard, heavy firebrick was carelessly thrown over to one side, causing the Sacramento to take on a noticeable list. So, to put the barge back on an even keel, 400 tons of concrete ballast was used to balance the weight. Since the sinking of the Olympic II in 1940, laws regarding fishing barges became much more strict. Regulations requiring bulkheading (creating watertight compartments) were made and sometime thereafter, a restriction was imposed that limited the size of fishing barges to 100 tons. The Sacramento at 2,200 tons, well exceeded this limit. To calculate a vessel's tonnage, simple measurements are taken which are plugged into a formula thus saving the time consuming task of measuring every room and compartment on the vessel. However, some compartments are not counted in the measurement. An old "trick" to reduce a vessel's registered tonnage (to reduce payments in harbors, canals, etc., where fees are based on tonnage) was to put bulkheads in key places, and to add "tonnage doors." By using these methods, Hale was able to reduce the Sacramentos registered tonnage down to 87 gross tons. Likewise, another barge once owned by Hale and the Redondo Sport Fishing company, the Retriever was reduced down to 99 tons.
The Sacramento soon became quite an attraction after its arrival to Southern California. She could accommodate up to 400 or 500 fisherman who could fish for a few hours or around the clock. During the winter, the Sacramento was brought inside the breakwater to avoid winter storms and undergo its annual maintenance. Every year, the barge underwent repairs, both above and below deck--including the removal of the thousands of copper sheets that covered the bottom to allow inspection and caulking of the hull planks. In November of 1968, the barge once again underwent $510,000 worth of maintenance in dry dock, and was soon moored off Redondo.
The first of December brought a winter storm with strong winds and heavy ground swells that rolled and pitched the Sacramento about. The barges fore and aft anchorage left her in a very dangerous position during rough weather. Sometime during the early morning of December 2, the unattended Sacramento either took on water or capsized, slipping beneath the waves and coming to rest on the edge of the Redondo Canyon somewhere between 180 and 200 feet of water. She left behind many life jackets and debris--including one of her wheelhouses, which floated ashore next to the wreck of the Dominator.
Today, the Sacramento can be found on navigational charts two miles off Redondo Beach. Ironically the old Sacramento formed an artificial reef for the modern fishing barge, Island of Redondo. Today, the wreck of the Sacramento remains relatively untouched, awaiting the fearless diver who seeks to explore her ornate wood carvings, beautiful stained glass, brass relics, and the hyperbaric chamber.