John Vonderlin: Coast Survey Point Ano Nuevo to San Francisco

Story from John Vonderlin

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Hi June,

   This is from a book entitled, “Pacific Coast, Coast Pilot of California, Oregon and Washington Territory.” It was written by George Davidson and was published in 1869. Mr. Davidson, for whom the Davidson Current and other features are named, was critical in the early, multi-year surveys of every nook and corner of our coastline, and so much more. This is a pilot guide to landmarks, dangers, and other things a mariner might face sailing our coast. It’s available for reading at Enjoy. John P.S. Note that Mr. Davidson, gives us another alternate theory of the origin of the name Pigeon Point. In this case the wreck of the clipper ship Wild Pigeon. While I do remember reading about the Wild Pigeon, he’s way off ccourse on that one.




From Point Santa Cruz to Point Ano Nuevo the distance is eighteen miles, and the general direction west by north three-quarters north, at first curving to the south westward of that course, and then to the northward, until within three miles of the rock off Point Ano Nuevo, when the shore curves well to westward, (for the last mile to the southwest,) forming an anchorage protected somewhat against the heavy swell from the northwest, and having a depth of five fathoms within less than half a mile of the shore, and from ten to fifteen fathoms at the distance of a mile.

   At a quarter of a mile from the point lies a black, jagged islet, consisting of a sloping ledge of rocks covered with a stratum of yellow clay about four feet thick, and this again covered with a mound of sand about thirty feet high. Upon this a light-house is to be built. The point itself is composed of rolling hills of shifting sand, varying from twenty to one hundred feet in height, while behind them rises’. the Santa Cruz range of mountains. The coast trail, which follows the beach from the southward, here strikes up the hills behind the sand diuies.


Steamers coming upon the coast from the southward in thick weather always endeavor to make the land near Point Ano Nuevo, and then follow the coast to the San Francisco bar. On account of its importance in this respect a light-house was recommended by the Superintendent of the Coast Survey.


The oflf-shore soundings from Monterey Bay to the Farallones show that the depth of one hundred fathoms gradually leaves the coast. South of Santa Cruz the depth of one hundred fathoms is found between eight and nine miles from the shore, and continues at this distance until nearly up with Point Ano Nuevo, where it suddenly increases to fourteen miles distant and thence runs northwest on a line Iying five miles outside of the Farallones. The deepest sounding was obtained only eight miles from shore and twelve miles southwest three-eighths west from Point Santa Cniz, and fifteen miles southeast by south one-eighth south from

Point Ano Nuevo. The depth was three hundred and thirty-five fathoms over

a bottom of coarse black sand and mud, and only one mile outside the one-hundred-fathom line.


Black Mountain, in latitude 37o 19′, and longitude 122^ 8′, attains an eleva-

tion of 2,809 feet, and lies twenty miles north by east half east from Point Ano Nuevo.


A map of the anchorage was published by the Coast Survey in 1854.


Many of the coasting steamers report their compasses affected when close in with the coast between Point Santa Cruz and Point Ano Nuevo. Although the vessel may be principally affected in this locality by undetermined ocean currents, influenced by the great submarine valley of Monterey Bay, yet, the report of Dr. J. B. Trask is that an extensive lode of magnetic iron occurs in this section, running down to the coast, where it crops out and exhibits a depth of several feet

   From Point Ano Nuevo the coast has a general direction northwest for nine miles to Point Bolsa, along a very rocky and bold shore with fifteen fathoms at a distance of half a mile. This is the Cape Tonquin of Tebenkoff and others. At the distance of five miles from Ano Nuevo is Pigeon Point, named from the wreck of the clipper ship Wild Pigeon.


The high mountain lying square in from Point Bolsa is Black Mountain, dis-

tant thirteen and one-half miles, and bearing north 53o east. Two miles north of La Bolsa empties the Piscador, a small stream running through a valley of inconsiderable extent. For the foregoing twelve miles the general formation of the immediate seaboard is that of a table-land of three terraces, the lowest gradually sloping from the base of the second to the coast, which is exceedingly rockj and forbidding; the underlying stratum is sandstone.


From Point Ano Nuevo to Pillar Point, or Punta de Corral Tierra, forming

the south and western point of Half moon Bay, the general direction is northwest by north, and the distance twenty-four and a half miles. Tliree and a third miles above the Piscador opens the San Gregorio, another small stream, and two and one-third miles still farther opens the Tunitas. The seaboard between the valley of the Piscador and that of the San Gregorio undergoes a striking change both in the character of its topography and its geology. Instead of the table-land, we meet with a spur of the Coast mountains running into the sea, and having an elevation of six hundred feet within a mile of it. The shore-line and the coast generally represent a very broken and rugged appearance, occasioned by the deep gulches cut through to the ocean.




This anchorage is six miles south-southeast from Point San Pedro, and eighteen miles south by east from the Golden Gate. The southwestern point of the bay is formed by a bluff table-land about one hundred and sixty feet in height, called the Corral de Tierra, three hundred and twenty-five yards south of which stretch a number of black rocks, which show as one when seen coming up the coast, but as three or four when approached from the northwest. The largest is nearly as high as the bluff, and locally known as Sail Rock, or Pillar Rock. The point is known as Pillar Point, and from its southeastern extremity rocky and foul bottom, marked by kelp, extends southeast one-third east, seven-eighths of a mile, dropping suddenly from fourteen feet to five fathoms. This is the inner reef, and makes the bay available as a summer anchorage. One mile and three-

quarters southeast from the same part of the point, a narrow ledge of rocky bottom, one-third of a mile long, and marked by kelp, stretches in the same general direction. The passage between this outer and the inner reef is three-quarters of a mile wide, with rocky and uneven bottom, from three and a quarter to ten and one-quarter fiithoms. These ledges lie parallel with the Coast mountains, and with the shoreline from which the outer one is distant one and three-eighths mile.From the eastern extremity of the point the shore runs northwest by north for a quarter of a mile; then northeast for three-quarters of a mile, curving to the eastward and southeastward in a long bend, for two and a half miles to the mouth of the Arroyo de los Pillarcitos, down which comes the only road crossing the peninsula of San Francisco, between the Laguna de Mercedes and Santa Cruz. The

highest part of this road, which crosses a depression of the peninsula, is near the Coast Survey station ” Ridge,” which is one thousand and ninety-three feet above the ocean, and but a few feet higher than the road. The outer reef is nearly abreast of the Pillarcitos, from which the coast runs south four miles to Miramontes Point, which is south 48° east, five miles from Pillar Point ; thence to the mouth of the Tunitas the distance is four miles southeast. The greatest extent of the bay may be said to be between Pillar and Miramontes Points, but the part near the former only is available.


About two and a half miles along the coast, northwestward from Pillar Point, a dangerous ledge lies about one-half mile off shore. It has ten to fifteen feet upon it, and much broken water around it. Detailed examinations might develop l(*8s (?) water. The shore behind it has a low bluff’ from twenty to sixty feet high with a broad, flat valley behind it, so that vessels, in hazy or dark weather, may mistake their distance from the shore.

   The soundings between the rocky ledges and the shore are quite regular,

decreasing from nine fathoms to three fathoms at less than a quarter of a mile from the beach, with sandy bottom. The passage to the anchorage is between the inner and outer reef, with the high, bare-topped mountain bearing a little north of east, and Pillar Point open to the westward. This mountain is steep, with straggling redwoods on its flanks, and the summit bare. It is locally known as Bald Pate; but, on the Spanish grants, as Cumbra de las Auras. When inside the reefs beat up until Pillar Point bears about southwest, distant half a mile, and anchor in four and a half fathoms, hard sand. With light southerly winds a heavy swell sets in ; but upon the approach of heavy southeast weather it is neces- sary to go to sea.

   The mass of redwoods cresting the mountains of the peninsula cease abruptly abreast of Miramontes, and only stragglers are seen to the northward. They are a good mark for recognizing this part of the coast when coming in from sea. Around Half-moon Bay is a limited extent of agricultural country at the seaward base of the mountains, and small coasters carry the produce to San Francisco.

   About one mile along the coast to the northwestward is a small boat harbor, one hundred yards wide, formed and protected by outlying rocks, and having three and a half fathoms in it. In the autumn months it is used as a whaling station. About a thousand barrels of humpback oil were obtained in the fall of 1863.

   Point San Pedro lies northwest by north one-quarter north, thirty miles from Point Ano Nuevo, and south by east from Point Lobos, at the entrance to the Golden Gate. It is a black, bold, rocky promontory, over five (?) hundred feet high, having a high, large, jagged rock at the northern part, and is a prominent and excellent mark for making the entrance to San Francisco. The principal rock is nearly a hundred feet high. Its south face is white, and shows the line of stratification plainly. From the west the dip of the strata shows about sixty degrees to the northward. It is connected with the main by some low rocks. Half a mile to the northeast of the point is the valley of San Pedro, from which the point takes

its name. Southeast from Point San Pedro the hills rise rapidly, and attain a height of one thousand nine hundred and eighty feet at Montara Mountain, three miles southeast by east from the point.

   When Point San Pedro bears southeast, five miles distant, with the rocks off it hidden by thick weather, and the top of the ridge covered with fog, it may be readily known by a single pyramidal hill rising abruptly and breaking the general slope of the mountain towards the southwest. As the fog lifts, or the point is approached, the rock will be seen inside, or to the eastward of this hill; and the low bluff towards Half-moon Bay will show outside of it.

   From Point San Pedro the bar outside the Golden Gate is distant twelve

miles, and from Point Ano Nuevo it is forty miles upon a northwest by north




About June Morrall

1947 - 2010
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