National marine sanctuaries protect some of the most spectacular ocean and Great Lakes resources in the United States, including shipwrecks like the Pomona.

In addition to preserving a unique marine ecosystem, Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary protects over 400 historically significant shipwrecks and aircraft off the coast of California, including the Pomona. Divers can visit these unique underwater museums to experience the physical reminders of our maritime heritage.

The 225-foot (68 m) steamship Pomona, which sank in 1908, is one of the sanctuary’s most accessible shipwrecks. The wreckage now lies in 27 to 40 feet (8 to 12 m) of water in Fort Ross Cove. Built in San Francisco in 1888 for the Oregon Improvement Company, Pomona was a state-of-the-art passenger steamship. It featured a strong steel hull, a luxurious deckhouse, two sturdy masts, and a fashionable, imposing vertical cutwater. It was also the first Pacific coast passenger vessel with a triple-expansion steam engine. Soon after it entered service, Pomona earned the nickname “the Pride of the Coaster Fleet.”

History of the Pomona 

In 1891, the Pacific Steamship Company purchased Pomona to run the San Francisco-Vancouver route. But disaster struck on the evening of March 17, 1908.

Pomona was steaming north near the mouth of the Russian River off Sonoma County. The ship traveled nearer to the coastline than usual so that rough weather would not make passengers uncomfortable. At 6:15 p.m., the ship hit a submerged rock.

Captain Charles Swansen judged the ship to be three-quarters of a mile offshore and rapidly taking on water. Attempting to save the cargo and his passenger’s lives, the captain steered the ship toward Fort Ross Cove, where he planned to beach it on one of the area’s few sandy shorelines. Unable to reach the shore after grounding on a second rock inside the cove, he gave the order to abandon ship. There was no loss of life and salvage efforts saved most of Pomona’s cargo.

Diving the Pomona

Today, divers can find the Pomona wreck at the bottom of the cove, still wedged against the rock that impaled the ship. Its hull lists to starboard and points toward the cove’s mouth, having been spun around by waves after the final impact. Although the bow has separated from the rest of the hull, it remains intact and includes the two hawse holes, a hatch cover, and portions of the superstructure. Divers exploring the steel hull can trace its original shape, as well as the starboard scotch boiler near its original location amidships. Salvage efforts and wave action have moved the port-side boiler past the stern. Around the wreck site, divers will also see large I-beams and sections of the masts.

Divers have visited the site since the 1908 sinking. That very year, the San Francisco Chronicle published a story about a salvage diver who engaged in combat with a “devilfish,” probably an octopus. In 1984, divers with California State Parks surveyed the wreck for the first time. In 1998, divers with Indiana University conducted several archaeological studies there. Due to its historical and archaeological significance, Pomona is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Visiting the Pomona dive site

The shipwreck of Pomona lies just offshore from Fort Ross, within Fort Ross State
Historic Park and Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary. (Photo credit: John Foster)

The wreck’s location in Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary and Fort Ross State Historic Park provides increased protection for the shipwreck, but divers are free to visit the site any time. In 2016, NOAA and California State Parks conducted monitoring dives on the site to assess its condition and gather imagery as part of the Doghole Ports Project. This work was part of an ongoing partnership to interpret the region’s maritime cultural landscape. Visit the NOAA Office of National Marine Sanctuaries webpage to learn more about diving opportunities and maritime heritage in your national marine sanctuaries.

By Oren Lieber-Kotz, NOAA Office of National Marine Sanctuaries

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