Go & touch history: The wreck of the 19th-century clipper ship King Philip, are visible at low tide

David Goran
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Clipper ships came in use in the 1830s. They had speed but did not last long in the shipping industry because they lacked cargo space and depended on the wind for traveling.

With a wooden hull and three masts, the King Philip was a 19th-century medium-sized clipper ship built in Alna, Maine in 1856 and launched the same year.

The bow of the wreck of the King Philip visible in May 2007. Source

The bow of the wreck of the King Philip visible in May 2007. Source

She was named for Metacomet (who was known to the English as “King Philip”), a war chief or sachem of the Wampanoag Indians.

Metacomet was the Wampanoag’s leader in King Philip’s War Like many ships before her, the King Philip sailed the oceans through the notorious storms of Cape Horn at the tip of South America transporting goods of value between the East coast and San Francisco.

Remains of the shipwreck of King Philip at Ocean Beach, stern (ship) of the ship were visible in May 2011. Source

Remains of the shipwreck of King Philip at Ocean Beach, stern (ship) of the ship were visible in May 2011. Source

On January 25, 1878, with no cargo on board, the King Philip left San Francisco Bay under Captain A.W. Keller, bound for Port Gamble. She was being escorted out to sea by a steam-powered tugboat through the turbulent waters of the Golden Gate Strait.

Suddenly, the tugboat received an urgent call from another ship close by, where there was a serious accident aboard their ship. Left on her own without the tugboat to steer her, the King Philip dropped an anchor, but the anchor did not hold fast, and the clipper drifted with the current towards the breakers of the beach and ran aground in heavy surf, which caused the ship to break apart.

She lost her rudder, her keel was crushed and her timbers were smashed to pieces. Thankfully, all the members of the crew survived the shipwreck.

The King Philip met its demise on January 25, 1878 as it left San Francisco Bay. The heavy surf caused the ship to break into pieces and it was quickly destroyed. Source

The ship met its demise on January 25, 1878, as it left San Francisco Bay. The heavy surf caused the ship to break into pieces and it was quickly destroyed. Source

Right after the incident, what was left of the wrecked clipper was offered up for auction and she was valued at $20,00 (almost half a million today). The wreck was sold to a San Francisco businessman named John Molloy for $1,050 (almost $23,000 today).

The masts, sails, anchors, and brass and copper fittings were all salvaged. What remained of the wreck was abandoned and left to the sea.

A rare sight of the King Philip shipwreck. This image was taken after a storm and both the stern (background) and the bow (foreground) are seen. Source

A rare sight of the shipwreck. This image was taken after a storm and both the stern (background) and the bow (foreground) are seen. Source

Left in place at extreme low tide level in 1878, what is left of the wreck is usually completely covered in sand. It occasionally surfaces when winter storms and tides wash away the sand.