This article about the rediscovery of the wreck of the Chester, which sank in 1888 near the Golden Gate Bridge, calls to mind Jack London’s The Sea Wolf:
Here’s what happened: The City of Chester — a passenger steamer built in 1875, according to the California State Lands Commission’s shipwreck database — departed San Francisco in a dense fog on the morning of Aug. 22, 1888. The ship was heading for Eureka, Calif., a town about 270 miles up the state’s coast, when it collided with the Oceanic, a much larger steamer.
“Collided” may be too gentle a term for this, actually. The Chester “was rammed in mid-channel” by the Oceanic, a ship about twice as long as the Chester, according to Michael D. White’s book “Shipwrecks of the California Coast.”
“The City of Chester was cut almost into halves and reeled under the terrible blow,” The Day (of New London, Conn.) wrote in its evening edition the following day, noting that the Chester sunk in a matter of minutes.
From The Sea Wolf:
The vessels came together before I could follow his advice. We must have been struck squarely amidships, for I saw nothing, the strange steamboat having passed beyond my line of vision. The Martinez heeled over, sharply, and there was a crashing and rending of timber. I was thrown flat on the wet deck, and before I could scramble to my feet I heard the scream of the women. This it was, I am certain,—the most indescribable of blood-curdling sounds,—that threw me into a panic. I remembered the life-preservers stored in the cabin, but was met at the door and swept backward by a wild rush of men and women. What happened in the next few minutes I do not recollect, though I have a clear remembrance of pulling down life-preservers from the overhead racks, while the red-faced man fastened them about the bodies of an hysterical group of women. This memory is as distinct and sharp as that of any picture I have seen. It is a picture, and I can see it now,—the jagged edges of the hole in the side of the cabin, through which the grey fog swirled and eddied; the empty upholstered seats, littered with all the evidences of sudden flight, such as packages, hand satchels, umbrellas, and wraps; the stout gentleman who had been reading my essay, encased in cork and canvas, the magazine still in his hand, and asking me with monotonous insistence if I thought there was any danger; the red-faced man, stumping gallantly around on his artificial legs and buckling life-preservers on all comers; and finally, the screaming bedlam of women.
. . .
I descended to the lower deck. The Martinez was sinking fast, for the water was very near. Numbers of the passengers were leaping overboard. Others, in the water, were clamouring to be taken aboard again. No one heeded them. A cry arose that we were sinking. I was seized by the consequent panic, and went over the side in a surge of bodies. How I went over I do not know, though I did know, and instantly, why those in the water were so desirous of getting back on the steamer. The water was cold—so cold that it was painful. The pang, as I plunged into it, was as quick and sharp as that of fire. It bit to the marrow. It was like the grip of death. I gasped with the anguish and shock of it, filling my lungs before the life-preserver popped me to the surface. The taste of the salt was strong in my mouth, and I was strangling with the acrid stuff in my throat and lungs.