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The Wreck of the Sailing Ship America

Built in Quincy Massachusetts in 1874, the 232 foot long bark The Barque America at sailAmerica once plied the Pacific Coast trade.  The graceful square-rigged vessel was built for speed, with similar lines to a clipper ship. She frequently raced with the Glory of the Seas when both were sailing the Nanaimo to California coal runs in the 1880's. She came to an inglorious end on August 30, 1914 when she was being towed as a barge by the Streamer Lorne with a load of coal  from Vancouver to Seattle for the British and French warships in the North Pacific.  Fog had closed in and the Lorne towed the America straight onto the rocks on the western shore of San Juan Island.   The Lorne was eventually salvaged, but the poor America was left to break apart on the rocks, where she still lies today, nearly a century later with only an occasional visit by divers.
The figurehead of the once proud ship was removed by Robert Moran and used as an ornament for his mansion on Orcas Island.  Today, the same figurehead greets visitors to the Rosario Resort on the same island.   Truly an interesting bit of history.

Typical of most clipper ships, the hull is narrow and long.  One side of the hull still stands about six feet off of the bottom, and several piles of the America’s cargo of coal are still sitting inside the ribs of the hull.  Many parts of the vessel are covered with kelp fronds, so it is easy to miss the vessel unless approaching from the North side of the wreck.   At the deeper end of the wreck (~ 60’) one of the old mast bosses that once supported the huge masts and sails now collects sponges and critters on the bottom.
There is also a very nice rocky reef just to the South and West of the deeper end of the wreck.  There are lots of interesting critters hiding in the many nooks and crannies of both the wreck and the reef which lies about 1 ½ miles north of Pile Point on the West side of San Juan Island.  The shallow end of the wreck lies in about 20 feet of water and the deeper end, some 200+ feet away lies in about 60 feet of water. 
This wreck site is very exposed to the prevailing Southerly Winds from the Straits of Juan de Fuca and also sees a lot of current heading up and down Haro Straight.  Be sure to pick a calm day with a moderate exchange and dive this interesting bit of history near slack from a live boat.  Diving in the San Juan Islands is always spectacular, and this site makes an interesting addition for several of the other dive sites on the West Side of the island (like Kellet Bluff or Lime Kiln Point). 

For more specific location and dive information for this wreck, please see Northwest Wreck Dives.

The figurehead on the bow of the America The figurehead of the America at the Rosario Resort
The figurehead of the America in its original location  The figurehead at the Rosario Resort.