Emerald Sea Photography
The War Hawk is one of the oldest wrecks that are easily visited by divers in the Pacific Northwest. The old wood hulled clipper ship was built in 1855 and carried lumber from the mills in Discovery Bay to San Francisco. On April 12th, 1883, the ship caught fire in the wee hours of the morning while tied up to the dock at the Port Discovery Mill. The crew untied the ship and let it slip away from the dock to keep it from burning up the mill. The War Hawk sank in very shallow water, just south of Mill Point, where she still rests today.
At 182' in length and resting in only thirty feet of water, the War Hawk is a fascinating dive for both history buffs and critter watchers. She's been sitting on the bottom for 125 years, yet there is still an amazing amount of the old hull and ribbing left. Large piles of ballast rocks can be found near the stern of the wreck, with engraved fire bricks scattered about. Dozens of varieties of nudibranchs and a wide variety of fish can be found hiding in the crevices created between the ballast stones.
Observant divers will spot the remains of several of the masts and booms laying along the port side of the ship. Close inspection of the heavy planking reveals lots of square brass nails and large copper drift pins (see photos at the end of this article) that were heated and then used to secure the heavy planking to the ribs of ship as they cooled and shrank. Bits of the old anchor chain are still fused to the remains of an iron windlass and colorful anemones stand like flowers on the gravesite of this once elegant ship.
The bow of this wreck is most likely pointing west, towards shore, but there are links of anchor chain and bits of a windlass near the East end of the wreck, so it is hard to say for sure.
Diving the War Hawk should be on every divers list of "must do" dives. There is a nice, free boat launch at Gardiner, and then its a short, four mile run to Mill Point. Just south of Mill point, in 35 feet of water, lies the wreck of the War Hawk. The wreck is well marked on most nautical charts (its been there for a long time), and is easily found with a fish finder. Due to the shallow depth of the wreck, lack of currents and lack of significant boat traffic, there are almost none of the usual hazards associated with diving this wreck. There is a lot of ambient light and good visibility that makes this truly a pleasant and memorable dive.
For the GPS location and additional photos of the wreck of the Yankee Clipper Ship War Hawk, please scroll to the bottom of the page.
“The War Hawk is unquestionable strong and beautiful, and, so far as we are qualified to give an opinion, we think she will prove as fleet as most vessels of her capacity. She is 182˝ feet long between perpendiculars on deck, 193 over all, has 37 feet breadth of beam, 23 feet depth of hold, including 8˝ feet height of between decks, 1 foot dead rise at half floor, 3 feet 8 inches sheer, 12 inches rounding of sides, and registers 1074˝ tons. Opposite the foremast she is 35 feet wide, and across the stern 26 feet 8 inches. …her bow terminates smack-smooth without head or trailboards, and is ornamented with the representation of a war-hawk on the wing. …She is sheathed with yellow metal up to 19 feet, above there is painted black, and inside white. … Her after house is 41 feet long, 23 wide and 7 high, is partly built into a half poop deck, and contains two beautiful cabins and an ante-room. … The after cabin is 13 feet long and 9 wide, is tastefully wainscoted, and enameled white, set off with gilded mouldings and flower work. On its starboard side aft is the captain’s cabin, fitted in the best style of marine art, and, on each side before it is neat stateroom. On the larboard side aft, is a wash room, and between it and the captain’s cabin, a staircase, which leads to the poop.
Before the two staterooms there are two richly covered sofas, in recesses, with gothic arched mirrors in the back ground; and in the centre of the cabin is a marble table. An oblong square skylight throws light and ventilation over the whole apartment, and the staterooms are also well lighted and ventilated. The forward cabin is fourteen feet long and ten wide, and is wainscoted with satin wood, white ash, and mahogany, relieved with gilding. It contains the pantry and staterooms, is elegantly furnished, and is lighted and ventilated in the same style as the after cabin. The ante-room contains apartments for the mates, and protects the entrance to the cabin amidships. Her cabin accommodations, considering their space, could not have been designed better, or furnished with finer taste….”
Between 1855 and 1871, the War Hawk made ten passages ‘around the Horn’ from New York to San Francisco, a trip which averaged 134 days at sea. From San Francisco, many clipper ships, including the War Hawk, ventured west to ports in China, via Hawaii, for a load of Tea, spices or other more exotic cargo. In the late 1850’s, the War Hawk was involved in the lucrative, but despicable Coolie and Guano Trades. Next to the slave trade, this was the saddest chapter in the history of this elegant vessel. The Coolie Trade involved the transport of Chinese contract laborers, or Coolies, as they were called, to such places as the American West and Cuba. Worse still was the Guano Trade which involved the transport of Coolies to Callao, Peru. Where the Coolies were forced to mine bird Guano used as a fertilizer in the United States.
In 1871, the War Hawk was sold to S.L. Mastick & Co., of San Francisco, CA and made regular trips to carry lumber from their saw mill at Port Discovery, to San Francisco. On the night of April 11, 1883 the mighty War Hawk caught fire, burned and sank in Discovery Bay, WA.
|The starboard side of the War Hawk.||One of the Copper Drift Pins used to secure the planking and ribs of the War Hawk.|