Woodbury Rocks, Point Pedernales

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On the evening of September 8, 1923, 9 out of 14 destroyers steaming at a nearly full speed of 20 knots (37 kph), ran aground at Point Pedernales, a few miles from the northern side of the Santa Barbara Channel off Point Arguello, California. It was called the Honda Point disaster, and is the largest peacetime loss of U.S. Navy ships.

The 14 destroyers were in a column formation following the flagship USS Delphy en route from San Francisco Bay, through the Santa Barbara Channel, to San Diego. The flagship was responsible for navigation of the fleet. As the Delphy steamed along the coastline, poor visibility meant the navigators had to go by the age-old technique of dead reckoning. Based solely on an estimate of their position based on speed and heading, Captain E.H. Watson ordered the fleet to turn east into the Santa Barbara Channel. However, the Delphy was actually several miles northeast of where they thought they were, and the error caused the ships to run aground at Honda Point.

Rescue attempts promptly followed the accident. Local ranchers rigged rescue lines from the surrounding clifftops and lowered them down to the ships that had run aground. Fishermen nearby who had seen the tragedy picked up members of the crew from USS Fuller and USS Woodbury. The crew aboard the capsized USS Young were able to climb to safety on the nearby USS Chauncey via a lifeline. The five destroyers in Destroyer Squadron Eleven that avoided running aground at Honda Point were also able to contribute to rescue efforts by picking up sailors who had been thrown into the water and by assisting those who were stuck aboard the wreckage of other ships. Two other ships that grounded were able to maneuver free off the rocks. Twenty-three sailors died in the disaster. Read more here and here. Explore more of Point Pedernales here: