Tides Expose Part of Bay-Area Shipwreck The sea off of San Francisco's western coast revealed an old reminder of its power last week: At low tide, one can see the water-logged bones of a 19th-century clipper ship emerging from the sands of Ocean Beach.
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Tides Expose Part of Bay-Area Shipwreck

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Tides Expose Part of Bay-Area Shipwreck

Tides Expose Part of Bay-Area Shipwreck

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Shipwrecks have inspired songs, paintings, and poetry. They often conjure up images of valiant sailors and hoards of gold or other lost treasure. The reality is considerably less romantic. A case in point: the remains of a 19th-century clipper ship that has washed ashore at Ocean Beach in San Francisco.

As NPR's Richard Gonzales reports, there's not much to see, and the ship's cargo was decidedly pedestrian. But people are excited about it anyway.

RICHARD GONZALES: As shipwrecks go, the King Philip, built in Maine in 1856, requires a lot of imagination.

Mr. STEPHEN HALLER (Park Ranger and Historian, Golden Gate National Recreation Area): What's remarkable here is that you could see, it's got - the bow's substantially sticking out of the sand, and you could see the distinctive "V" shape.

GONZALES: Stephen Haller is park ranger and historian for the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. He points at type collection of heavy timbers marking the ghostly outlines of a ship.

Mr. HALLER: You can barely see the stern but enough to get a sense of the size, because an entire ship in the 200 feet in between right under where we're standing.

GONZALES: The three-masted clipper ship was named for a Native American chief who fought a bloody war with New England settlers. The ship had its own hard luck on the high seas. It hauled bird manure around the world and was twice set on fire by mutinous crews. In 1878, it ran aground in a high tide while being towed through the Golden Gate. Fortunately, the crew survived.

The King Philip is one of about 200 shipwrecks around the Golden Gate, but this one has a habit of resurfacing now and then, says Stephen Haller.

Mr. HALLER: In 1983, 1984, we had the El Nino storms, and those storms scoured the beach so badly that the entire outline of the ship was exposed. At that time, we were able to do substantial measuring and exploration, probing and a fair amount of research at the time to establish what it was.

GONZALES: Word of the King Philip's reappearance last week spread quickly, thanks to local news reports drawing a steady stream of visitors like surfer Mark Vann.

Mr. MARK VANN (Surfer): Cool.

GONZALES: So what goes through your mind when you see this?

Mr. VANN: Oh, Ijust saw the history of this beach, of the surf area as we know. Lot of shipwrecks. I could only imagine back then they didn't have all the rescue equipment they have now, you know - no helicopters, no surfboats, so it's pretty amazing.

GONZALES: For San Francisco native Joyce Dowling(ph), the King Philip inspires wonder.

Ms. JOYCE DOWLING(ph) (San Francisco Native): It makes me think, too, how brave man was way back then to build these tiny little things and go out into the ocean and try to sail around the ocean in something that's maybe 200 feet long. Just amazing. What confidence.

GONZALES: Poking at the thick timbers of the King Philip's hull, a group of children fantasize of pirates and promises of buried prizes.

Unidentified Child: Look. Can you dig it out, Amy(ph)?

Unidentified Woman: I see it. I see the gold. Wow.

Unidentified Child: Can you take it out, Amy?

GONZALES: But don't count on it, says historian Stephen Haller.

Mr. HALLER: There's no real treasure here in the sense of cargo. The real treasure here is the chance to see - look back into a hundred years of maritime history, when San Francisco was one of the greatest seaports in the world.

GONZALES: But those days are past, and the conditions for catching a glimpse of the King Philip remain favorable for just a few more days.

Richard Gonzales, NPR News San Francisco.

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MICHELE Norris, host:

Just ahead, Iraqi soldiers working with the U.S. and injured in the field by the hundreds often don't get the medical support they need. That's story is coming up when we continue with ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

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