Larry Clinton/Sausalito Historical Society
It’s well known that Tennessee Cove got its name from a ship that was wrecked there in 1853. But it was also the scene of another shipwreck, 38 years later.
The 3-masted wooden sailing ship Elisabeth had sailed from New York in 1891 carrying a cargo of assorted merchandise, a crew of 26, and three passengers — the wife and children of the captain, James Colcord. She approached the Golden Gate in a furious February gale and was approached by two tugboats offering to tow her into port. But Capt. Colcord refused their help because he felt they were overcharging. Finally, he accepted a tow for $50 from the tug Alert. According to an eyewitness report, “As soon as the tug started ahead, the hawser parted and the ship commenced to drift in towards the shore.”
Another hawser was deployed, but the ship “was drifting steadily to leeward, there being a strong and increasing breeze and the tug being unable to make any headway. At about 4 p.m. the ship struck heavily on Four Fathom Bank or Potato Patch, the tug still towing and whistling for assistance. Soon after striking, the hawser broke or was cut away.”
The eyewitness, Chief officer W.C. Barclay, reported: “[Another] tug now came to us and the Alert went away. Captain Colcord ordered [a] cutter launched to carry his wife and two children to the tug, but she swamped under … with three men in her, they being picked up by the tug.”
The ensuing tragedy was reported both in the New York Times and San Francisco’s Daily Alta California.
According to the Times: “As the boat struck the water it capsized, throwing three sailors … into the water. They clung to the bottom of the boat, and were picked up by the tug.
“The Captain’s family were then lowered in another boat and taken to the tug by the mate and two seamen. The boat returned to the ship, and its occupants perished with the rest of the ship’s crew. The tugs were unable to get near the ship, and late at night returned to port, leaving the vessel to her fate. Early this morning a tug went to the scene of the wreck and found that nothing was left of the Elizabeth. she had gone to pieces during the night.”
The Daily Alta California account focused on brave but futile rescue attempts by local life-saving crews: “When daylight broke yesterday morning the storm was still raging, but notwithstanding, a tug put out at 6 o’clock in the vain endeavor to reach the scene of the wreck. She was obliged to return, however, with the report that the wreck had gone to pieces, and that all those on board had undoubtedly perished …
“Although the elements had seemingly combined to render fruitless all attempts at saving the Elizabeth’s crew, the gallant work was persevered in all through the dark and stormy night.
Seeing that it was impossible to reach the wreck by water, one attempt having resulted in the death of Captain Henry of the Baker’s Beach Life-Saving Station, the heroic and almost impossible task was decided on of reaching Tennessee Cove by land from Sausalito. Captain Holahan and crew of the Golden Gate Life-Saving Station had arrived at Fort Point, and, together with the remaining members of the Bakers’ Beach crew, with the cart containing the ropes and fittings, were transported to Sausalito on the tug Active, reaching there at 12:45 a.m.
“The problem was to find the road to the beach, and convey the men, with the cart and appliances, to the scene of the wreck. Opposite the ferry at Sausalito was a stable, kept by a Portuguese, who was routed out, and an effort was made by Captain Holahan to secure some horses. Although there were fourteen horses in the stable, threats and entreaties were alike useless on the stolid fellow, who could not be prevailed upon to let his horses go. Seeing that much precious time was being lost by a useless parley, Captain Holahan gave up the attempt, and his brave fellows immediately volunteered to drag the cart over the almost impassable road to Tennessee Cove.
“A harness for each man was rigged up from the ropes in the cart, and out into the dark night they manfully trod, almost blinded by the torrents of rain which fell unceasingly. Under the guidance of a resident of Sausalito, the party toiled over the rocky road, which abounded with deep gullies washed out by the rain of the previous day. For fourteen miles the cart was thus dragged, up steep hills and narrow valleys, until finally at 4:45 Sunday morning Tennessee Cove was reached. Not a vestige of the wreck could be seen in any direction, and accordingly Captain Holahan sent out two parties of four men each, one up and one down the beach, but it was not until 2 o’clock in the afternoon that the wreck was discovered at Rocky Point, three miles to the northward of the big lagoon. The wreckage of the ship and cargo was piled up under the rocky bluff, and no signs of life could be seen on board.
“The lifeless bodies of three men were seen in the rigging. The party sent in the direction of Bolinas Bay returned in the afternoon and brought the welcome news that five of the Elizabeth’s crew had been washed ashore during the night, and were being well cared for at a rancher’s house.” Captain Colcord was not among them. He died of injuries he suffered when heavy waves swamped the doomed Elizabeth.