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Historic Shipwreck Found Off Channel Islands Identified as George E. Billings

Seventy years after it was scuttled off Los Angeles, government archaeologists have found the wrecked remains of the George E. Billings, a rare Pacific Coast schooner that was employed in the lumber trade during the early 1900s.

Five-masted lumber schooner George E. Billings. (San Francisco Maritime Historic Park photo)
Five-masted lumber schooner George E. Billings. (San Francisco Maritime Historic Park photo)

At the California Islands Symposium in Ventura on Monday, Robert Schwemmer, maritime archaeologist for NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, confirmed the ship’s identity and presented a scientific paper on its history and discovery.

The Billings, a five-masted schooner built in 1903 by Halls Bros. of Port Blakeley, Wash., was one of only six schooners of that type built on the Pacific Coast prior to 1905. The ship was built to haul lumber from the Northwest to Hawaii, Mexico, South America, Australia and Southern California. After decades serving the lumber trade, it was converted into a sport-fishing barge.

In 1941, the owner decided to scuttle the aging vessel off the coast of Santa Barbara Island, in waters now part of NOAA’s Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary.

Archaeologists and historians with the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary and Channel Islands National Park have searched for the Billings for nearly 20 years, using historical information. The wreck was located in February 2011 using research provided by tech-diver Steve Lawson, researcher Gary Fabian, and Patrick Smith with Coastal Maritime Archaeology Resources.

“The discovery of the Billings is a result of excellent collaboration with the local community,” Schwemmer said. “Now we can write the final chapter of not only the largest, but the last sailing vessel built by the Hall Brothers during their 30-year career of designing some of the finest ships sailing the Pacific.”

More than 150 historic ships and aircraft have been reported lost in sanctuary and park waters, with 30 having been located and surveyed. The wreck sites are protected under state and federal law, and it is illegal to disturb or damage any archaeological sites in sanctuary and park boundaries. The Billings shipwreck remains are owned by the state of California and managed by the California State Lands Commission.

“The Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary and Channel Islands National Park are a world destination for sport diving,” said Chris Mobley, sanctuary superintendent. “For years, divers have shared new discoveries with both federal agencies and we commend them for their spirit of stewardship so these historic resources can be surveyed and shared with the American public.”

NOAA’s Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary was designated in 1980 to protect marine resources surrounding San Miguel, Santa Rosa, Santa Cruz, Anacapa and Santa Barbara islands. The sanctuary spans about 1,470 square miles, extending from island shorelines to six miles offshore, and encompasses a rich diversity of marine life, habitats and historical and cultural resources.

— Shauna Bingham represents the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary.

 

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