What's That Stack?
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Baja California Information Pages

Infrequently Asked Questions

What's that stack sticking out of the water?

This question refers to a "stack" rising about 10 feet out of the water in the La Paz channel, just north of the Gran Baja Hotel. The stack has a navigation light on it, but the angle of the stack suggests something other than just a support for the light.

A general answer to this question is something I can provide: the stack belongs to a sunken ship. This much I know from frequently kayaking around the area.

However, the details of the wreck, and how it got there are much more interesting than this simple statement, and for these details I consulted my friends, Richard and Mary Lou Adcock. Here is the story they passed on:

By making some associations with known dates, Richard and Mary Lou believe the year was probably 1972. The ship involved was the "Don Lorenzo," a small WWII surplus freighter. This type of freighter had ferried supplies from Seattle to military bases in the Aleutian Islands. The ships were about 200 feet in length, with two cargo holds. Each ship had a tall mast with two lifting booms for the loading and unloading of cargo from these holds.

When the Don Lorenzo met its fate, the ship was carrying a load of aviation gas in barrels down in the holds (an extremely unsafe place to be carrying gasoline!). The fuel was being delivered to La Paz, and the ship had tied up to the City Pier (Muelle Fiscal).

The morning the unloading was to begin, two crew members were assigned the task of opening the covers on the holds while the other crew members were eating breakfast. Then the entire crew could get started unloading the fuel immediately after finishing breakfast.

Perhaps one of the crew members opening the hatch covers was smoking. For whatever reason though, during the opening process, there was a tremendous explosion in the hatch area. The two crew members opening the hatches were instantly killed. Because they were elsewhere on the ship eating breakfast, the rest of the crew survived.

Don Lorenzo against the pier
Don Lorenzo
against the pier
(Click for photo)

The ship quickly burned and sank at the City Pier, however fires continued burning for three days as aviation gas bubbled to the surface, only to be ignited by the fire already burning above the water. Barrels of fuel floated loose and, while still burning, became dangerous floating "tiki torches."

The ship had settled against the pier, effectively blocking use of the pier by large vessels. The problem of moving the Don Lorenzo away from the pier was not solved for several months.

Don Lorenzo carried off
Don Lorenzo
being carried off
(Click for photo)

The tall mast had to be cut in order to free the ship from the pier. Once that was accomplished, using the tides and a barge with a self-propelled crane, the remains of the ship could be lifted and carried off.

But where to put this wreck?

At that time there was very little to what is now the south end of La Paz. No "Little Abaroa's" boat yard, no Gran Baja Hotel, etc.. Richard and Mary Lou's ship, the Marisla II, was practically the southern-most point along the La Paz waterfront.

The newly acquired Marisla II was tied to a buoy off the property the Adcocks had bought "way outside town." The wreck of the Don Lorenzo was then carried just past this last outpost of La Paz, and dropped to the bottom.

A navigation light was eventually placed on top of the Don Lorenzo's mast. It is the remnant of this mast which may now be clearly seen protruding from the water just north of the Gran Baja.

At low tides, the top of the wheelhouse can be seen just breaking the surface of the water. Taking a kayak to the wreck allows a fairly clear view of the wheelhouse area, although the tides can stir the water up making visibility poor.

Over the years a substantial sand bar has built up around the wreck. Also building up has been that area of La Paz. Pleasure boats frequently use that end of La Paz for anchoring, and so the navigation light on the mast of the Don Lorenzo has become a necessary marker.

Fred Metcalf (Details and photos provided by Richard and Mary Lou Adcock)
(Written September, 1998)

Copyright 1998-2011 Fred T. Metcalf

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