The Vashon is another wreck on Catalina Island that is very rarely dived and has an interesting history including service in Pearl Harbor as the USS Cockatoo (AMc 8).
The Vashon is on the “backside” of the island and has an interesting history and some conflicting information in terms of location.
When I first started researching the wreck before the dive, I had a common problem when researching wrecks. The name “Vashon” might sound unique, but it isn’t. It is an island in Alaska and there is also (at least) one other other ship named “Vashon” that was a ferry boat in Alaska that also sank. So, even when you search for something like “Vashon wreck” you need to sift through the results.
I finally found the nugget that I was looking for and started following the bread crumbs. I also had the help of Tyler Stalter who had dived the wreck about 10 years and identified it.
The Vashon was a ship very similar to the New Saturnia. In fact, when I finally found a picture of the Vashon, I immediately thought “wow, that is exactly like the New Saturnia.” Here are two photos of the ships:
The two ships are basically the same. They are almost the same length (88 feet), were both built in boatyards in Washington state and both were used for fishing in the Southern California area.
They also both share another characteristic: an Atlas diesel four cylinder engine (more on that later).
However, there is something unique about the Vashon. If you look close at the bow area of the photo on the left, you will notice a number “8” in typical Navy boat font. Why would a purse seiner fishing vessel have a number like that?
The Vashon was built in 1936 by the Seattle Shipbuilding company. It was acquired by the Navy in October 1940 and converted into a Coastal Minesweeper and commissioned as the USS Cockatoo (AMc 8) in April 1941. I’m not sure what it was used for or where it was stationed in the 4 years in between but I’m guessing it was a fishing vessel somewhere in Southern California.
When I was researching the ship, I found out that the Cockatoo served in Pearl Harbor during WW2 and was attacked by Japanese bombers. Tyler did some research and found some information regarding the time it was in Pearl Harbor.
One report said that it was moored at the Section Base on the morning of December 7th and that many of the ships there “opened machine gun and rifle fire on the low flying planes, and it is believed that they succeeded in hitting at least two planes.” Another record indicates that at 07:48 that the Cockatoo “sounded general quarters, manned machine guns; commenced firing” from Bishop Point.
Tyler found an article in a St George, Utah interactive news media site that had an account by a family member of somebody that was on the Cockatoo during the Pearl Harbor attack:
Jennie Campbell said she remembers her father, William Clinton Campbell, who served in the Navy and was aboard the USS Cockatoo, a coastal minesweeper, the day of Pearl Harbor.
“They were on the ship and they hear bomb planes and they think it’s drills, and then all the sudden, it’s happening and they started rushing around,” Jennie Campbell said. “This is what he was wearing that day,” she said, holding out a tan, worn Navy hat.
The book Daughters of Infamy – The Stories of the Ships that survived Pearl Harbor by David Kilmer has a description about the Cockatoo and it’s service in Pearl Harbor:
COCKATOO was berthed at the section base near the mount of the Pearl Harbor channel. Twenty-seven year old Machinist Mate 2nd Class Elbert Lee Brown, a native of Statesville, North Carolina, was on board preparing to raise the flag for morning colors when he heard the the first explosions from the harbor two miles away. Within minutes he and the other eleven men on board could see the heavy black smoke ominously rising from Battleship Row. The commanding officer of COCKATOO, J. B. Cook, turned to Brown and said, “Get your rifle.” The small minesweeper had begun her life as a fishing boat and was armed only with a single .50 caliber machine gun. Brown disappeared below deck and returned armed with a 12 gauge, double barrel shotgun which he used to fire on low flying Japanese planes.
Knowing that she had limited abilities for either offensive or defensive action and that she soon would be needed to carry out minesweeping duties, COCKATOO, along with other ships at the section base was moved in close to shore to find what little cover they could that was provided by the trees there. Toward the end of the attack a lone bomb came out of the sky splashing into the water only twenty feet away. The expected “whoomph” of an explosion never came. It was a dud.Daughters of Infamy
Post Pearl Harbor
According to Daughters of Infamy, the “COCKATOO was placed on the floating dry-dock ARD-8, which was then towed to San Diego from Pearl Harbor. On September 23, 1946, COCKATOO was transferred to the U.S. Maritime Commission for final disposition.”
The ship was sold in 1947 to Andrew Vidovich of San Pedro for use as a fishing boat. It was then sold in 1948 to Paul Marinkovich, also of San Pedro. Anybody who has lived in San Pedro (as I have) for any length of times knows those last names. They are fairly well known families in the community.
Interestingly, the New Saturnia was also owned by a San Pedro resident, Salvatore Di Iorio.
On July 23rd, 1949 the ship caught fire and sank. One site says that it sank “3 miles from shore” but that is incorrect. The fire might have started 3 miles from shore (one article says 5 miles) but it currently rests much closer to land. According to an article that Tyler found, it “burned for almost eight hours and sank less than 100 yards off shore.” The captain, Paul Marinkovich, and the crew of 10 escaped unharmed. According to Marinkovich, “the fire started after an explosion in the engine room of the 88-foot boat about 11:30 p.m.”
The wreck lies in about 150 feet of water on the “backside” of Catalina Island. Because the hull was made from wood and because it burned to the waterline, there isn’t much left of the hull or shape of the wreck. However, the Atlas 4 cylinder diesel engine is still there along with most of the other parts of the wreck.
What I found unique is the color of the anemones.
On most wrecks in this area, they tend to be “strawberry” colored. On this wreck, everything was a really cool “peach-ish” and “yellow-ish” color. I haven’t seen it before and it was really nice.
Here is a picture of what I’m referring to:
I believe that the structure show above is actually part of fish storage containers. It was near the stern of the ship where the fish holds would be. It would also make sense since it would be at or below the waterline during the fire and could possible survive the fire.
Refrigerated Fish Tanks (?)
You can see in the pictures below that I took of the inside of the structure that there are cooling “ribs” that would have been used to keep the cavity cold to maintain the fish. In one of the other pictures of those same structures, you can see what would be a hatch cover.
The Vashon had a “240bhp Atlas 4HM 2124 diesel engine, one shaft.”
I’ve posted about the Atlas engines in the past. Most recently, Tyler and I dove on the New Saturnia back in October and it also had a 4 cylinder Atlas engine. The first time I had seen one was earlier in 2020 when Ray put me on the site of a unknown wreck off Palos Verdes. Given what I know now, I’m guessing that that wreck was also a fishing trawler.
Other wreck pieces
Other than the wooden hull, most of the wreck is still there. I found the prop shaft but didn’t find the prop. You can also find the big spools used for nets and fishing line. There were also a few lobsters hanging out here and there. 🙂
A special thanks to Tyler Stalter who helped immensely with the research for this post.