Swift tides, treacherous rocks, dense fog, and a narrow harbor entrance have always made San Francisco's coast and port difficult to navigate. Over 300 known vessels have failed to make the passage and sank in the cold, treacherous waters.
One of the worst maritime disasters along the coast was the wreck of the City of Rio de Janeiro in 1901. The iron-hulled steamer hit a submerged ledge off Fort Point, in the Presidio, and flooded and sank within eight minutes. One hundred and twenty-eight of the 210 passengers and crew perished.
In 1922, the Lyman Q. Stewart collided with a freighter in a thick fog and grounded on the rocks at Lands End. Fifteen years later, the Frank H. Buck wrecked at the same spot. The wrecks were dynamited in 1938,, but parts of the engines of both ships are still visible from here during low tide.
Newspaper article about Ohioan, October 8, 1936.
Loaded with 1,400 tons of washing machines, trucks and other cargo, the Ohioan swung too close to shore and crashed on the rocks at Point Lobos. Crowds watched as cargo was salvaged near shore.
Lyman A. Stewart, wrecked off Lands End, 1922 San Francisco National Maritime Museum
Frank H. Buck, wrecked off Lands End, 1937 San Francisco National Maritime Museum
[Chart of the Lands End coast with major wreck sites identified] Since San Francisco's harbor became a vital shipping center at the start of the Gold Rush in 1849, hundreds of ships have been lost to the Golden Gate's challenging conditions. Vivian Young
The devastating wreck of the City of Rio de Janiero in 1901 prompted the construction of the Mile Rock lighthouse. By 1906, fog signals blasted regularly and a light shone from the top tier of the lighthouse, warning ships of the perilous rocks nearby.
Locals affectionately called the tiny, four-tiered tower atop Mile Rock the "steel wedding cake." The lighthouse was closed and dismantled in 1966, and was converted to a helicopter landing pad with an automated light.