San Francisco Call, Volume 94, Number 119, 27 September 1903
Courtesy from the the California Digital Newspaper

Coal-Laden Vessel, Just at End of Long Voyage From Australia, Goes Ashore in Dense Fog Twelve Miles Below the Cliff House and Will Be a Total Loss — Crew Escapes Without Fatality
DECEIVED by the dense fog that has lain low over the ocean along the coast for the last two days, the British four-masted bark Gifford, seventy-five days out from Newcastle, New South Wales, with a cargo of coal for this port, went ashore on Mussel Rock on Friday evening at 6 O'clock and is now lying at the mercy of th« wind and waves, a wreck. The entire crew of the bark saved their lives after a battle with the waves. The first news that the Gifford was ashore was made known yesterday morning at 8 o'clock, when she was sighted by the lookout of the South Side life saving station five miles north of the wreck. The alarm was at once given and in a short space of time the lifeboats from, the South Side, Golden Gate and Fort Point stations were launched and proceeded to the scene of the disaster. Telephone messages were sent to the Merchants' Exchange and to the offices of the tugboat companies and two hours after the news of the wreck was made known the tugs Sea Rover, Relief. Sea King and Defiance were pitching and tossing close to the ill-fated bark.

At the time the Glfford went ashore the fog was so dense that It waa impossible for those on board to see a ship's length ahead. Men on the masthead and forward on the bark could not detect the noise of the breakers owing to the thunder of the sea, and. though the captain of the vessel, David Michie. knew that he was in the. vicinity of the Golden Gate, he did not know that he was south of the haven of safety and in the twinkling of an eye the valuable bark and her cargo were lost to the use of man. The Gifford ran with a crash upon the sharp rocks that lie twelve miles south of the Cliff House.

All hands were on deck at the time of the disaster. First Officer Harry Lavcrick was on watch when the bark went ashore. At 6 o'clock in the evening the watches were changed, and owing to the dense fog Captain Michie decided to take in all sail and put his vessel about, fearing that he might be too close to the coast for safety.

While the sailors were aloft taking in sail the first officer threw the sounding lead and discovered that he was in shallow water. His warning cry to Captain Michie came too late. The Glfford piled on Mussel Rock and her forward and middle compartments were pierced by the sharp pinnacles.

The order was at once given to man the bark's lifeboats and prepare to launch them. Good order was maintained, and after findlng that the vessel was not making much water in the wells Captain Michie decided to keep his men aboard and signal for assistance. Through the dark watches of the night the spray drenched crew of the Gifford clung heroically to their vessel. Rockets were sent up at frequent intervals for two hours after the vessel struck. . Flares were burned from 9 p. m. until midnight, but no answer came from the shore. Captain Michie and his crew claim that while the fog was very dense previous to the disaster the mist cleared away shortly after the vessel struck and all through the night they could see a white fixed light some miles up the beach. If the fog cleared as Captain Michie and his men claim It did. it seems incredible that the lookout of the South Side Llfesaving Station did not notice the rockets and flares from the wrecked vessel. As in the case of the steamship Rio do Janeiro no help from the life saving men reached the unfortunate mariners until some hours after the disaster took place. The bravery of the life saving crews on this coast is not to be questioned for an Instant, but the lookout system seems to be woefully at fault. If the Gifford had been a passenger ship laden with many human lives, another tale of awful loss would have been added to the list of disasters on this coast.

At 7 o'clock yesterday morning Captain Michie ordered that two of his life boats be launched and a landing made on the shore. The boats had a terrible struggle with the waves and the sailors were drenched to the skin by the waves dashing over the boats.

When a landing was finally made Second Officer Ernest Clarke, with sailors Lewis Berloner and carpenter E. Mathews. climbed the steep bluff and made across the range in the direction of Colma. Their mission was to summon assistance and also to get water for the crew, as the barrels in the vessel's life boats were filled with salt water and not with the fresh liquid as demanded by law. Captain Michie denied last evening that the barrels were filled with salt water, but the fact remained that the only water the stranded sailors had to drink on the beach was the scant supply carried by some of the crew for miles across the hills to the scene of the wreck. . At 8 o'clock yesterday the lookout of the South Side Life-saving Station discerned the Gifford through bis marine glass and gave the alarm. When the four tugs and the three life boats arrived at the scene of the wreck all the crew were ashore with the exeception of Captain Michie, First Officer Harry Laverick and two of the sailors.

The life boats went alongside the stricken vessel while the tugs lay some distance off. The Gifford was lying broadside on to the heavy waves that dashed with terrific force on the sides of the vessel. Each successive wave seemed to drive the unfortunate bark closer to the shore and lessen her chance of being saved by the tugs. It was decided that an attempt should be made at high tide to pull the Gifford from her position on the rocks. The tugs were assisted by the life saving crews in making hawsers fast to the stranded vessel. The tide was at its highest at 3 o'clock yesterday afternoon and half an hour before that time the tugs steamed with every pound of steam in their boilers, trying, to pull the Gifford from Mussel Rock. The hawsers broke like strings and again the life boats tossed and tumbled in the heavy surf and carried the lines from the tugs to the Gifford. Another attempt was made to pull the Glfford from the rocks exactly at high tide, but it failed. The rocks held their prey with tenacious hold and the work of the tuggs was of no avail. A second time the hawsers parted and it was then seen that the Gifford was doomed to destruction. The tugs steamed for the harbor and the life boats went to work to bring Captain Michie and his comrades from the doomed vessel to the shore, together with their belongings. Twice the life boats, in charge of Captain Varney and Captain Grunbeck, made the perilous trip from the Gifford to the shore. When the Gifford struck she was about two hundred yards from the beach, but the constant pounding of the waves for twenty-four hours had placed her last evening one hundred yards nearer shore. When Captain . Mlchie of the Glfford came ashore last evening from, his wrecked vessel he made the following statement: "We left Newcastle, New South Wales, seventy-five days ago, on Friday. We did not sight land, with the exception of a small island, until we got off the coast of California. On Thursday morning last we could discern the coast through the haze. I took my bearings by the sun on Thursday noon and shortly after that the foe settled down on us and it was thick until after we went ashore. I assumed that we were some distance from the Golden Gate, but we could not see any lights and did not hear any of the fog whistles. After we struck we sent up rockets and burned flares, but we received no answer from the shore. The fog cleared after we struck and we could see a fixed white light some distance north of us. I deny that the barrels on our lifeboats were filled with salt water. It may be that salt water got Into the barrels when the boats came ashore. I do not care to make any further statement until I have seen our local agents, J. J. Moore & Co."

Captain Michie proceeded to the South Side Life-saving station and at that point the crew of the station put him aboard an Italian fishing boat bound for the harbor. At a late hour last night word was received from the South Side Lifesaving station that the entire crew of the Gifford was still on the beach near the wreck and that they would remain there all night and would be brought into the city today. Captain Michie could not be located last night, though It was known that he was landed at Meiggs wharf by the Italian fishermen on whose boat he came into the harbor.

First Officer Harry Laveflck, who was in charge of the watch when the Glfford struck, made the following statement when he came ashore last evening: "The fog was so dense yesterday that we could not see 100 feet ahead. We were steering northeast by east Just before we struck. We heard a fog whistle at 3 o'clock in the afternoon, and we were not sure what whistle it was. We could not see any lights on shore when it got dark. From our dead reckoning and the bearings we secured on Thursday by the sun we thought we were heading directly for the Golden Gate. I was taking a sounding just as the vessel struck."

The British ship General Gordon, from Newcastle, N. S. W., also had a narrow escape from going on the rocks the same time the Glfford did. The two vessels were in sight of each other since Tuesday last, and at the time the Glfford struck the General Gordon was about a quarter of a mile away from her. The General Gordon secured Pilot Hayes shortly before dusk, and when the pilot climbed aboard the vessel was close in shore in the vicinity of Mussel Rock. Pilot Hayes was obliged to steer a northwest course from Mussel Rock in order to get his bearings on the lightship, thence into the Golden Gate. Neither Pilot Hayes nor the crew of the General Gordon sighted the land on Friday night, though they could hear the noise of the surf breaking on the shore.

The wrecked bark Glfford was built at Greenock, Scotland, eleven years ago. She was of 2113 net tonnage and constructed of steel, and was rated 100 A1 at Lloyd's. She left Cardiff, Wales, a year ago with a cargo of coal for Montevideo, South America. Thence she proceeded to Rio Blanco, South America, in ballast, and from that point carried a cargo of wheat to Sydney, Australia. She was then ordered to Newcastle, N. S. W., and left that port on July 12 last for San Francisco with. 3500 tons of coal conslgned to J. J. Moore & Co. of this city.

The Gifford was 281 feet 6 Inches 1n length. 42 feet beam and 24 feet 6 inches deep. She was owned by Andrew Weir of Glasgow, Scotland, and was valued at about $90,000. The valug of her cargo of coal is estimated at about $18,000. ¦ The crew of. the Gifford numbered twentey-seven men all told. In addition to her captain and three mates she carried sixteen hands forward, four petty officers and three apprentices.