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2007 Papahanaumokuakea Expedition
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Site of the Possible Four-masted Schooner Churchill

Anchors, windlass parts and rigging (or  head gear ) of a large sailing vessel at French Frigate Shoals, identification unconfirmed.
Anchors, windlass parts and rigging (or "head gear") of a large sailing vessel at French Frigate Shoals, identification unconfirmed. (Credit: Tane Casserley/NOAA)
At French Frigate Shoals, the NOAA maritime heritage team was able to begin a systematic investigation of a site initially discovered by the Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center's Coral Reef Ecosystem Division in October 2005. The 2007 survey uncovered clues that may help solve the mystery of the unidentified shipwreck. Based on data gathered during the expedition, researchers have deduced that the site, a turn-of-the-century wooden sailing ship, may likely be the four-masted schooner Churchill, which is known to have been lost in the area in 1917.

An historic image of the schooner Churchill, tied up alongside the wharf at 
San Pedro, California (Courtesy Steven Priske/Tall Ships of San Francisco)
An historic image of the schooner Churchill, tied up alongside the wharf at San Pedro, California (Courtesy Steven Priske/Tall Ships of San Francisco)
While the identity of the ship has not yet been determined conclusively, diagnostic artifacts at the site - including parts of the windlass, three large iron anchors, ship's pumps, and numerous blocks and rigging components - appear consistent with the 178-foot, 600-ton schooner Churchill. Anchors, rigging, pumps and deck equipment all correspond to the Churchill's size and construction. National Marine Sanctuary Program staff are currently working to analyze the evidence and provide a positive identification of the site.

Debris might at first appear haphazard, but close inspection confirms the material's origin, a shipwreck site (Credit: Tane Casserley/NOAA)
Debris might at first appear haphazard, but close inspection confirms the material's origin, a shipwreck site (Credit: Tane Casserley/NOAA)
The Churchill was built in North Bend, Oregon, and launched in April, 1900 by shipwright Asa Meade Simpson. Large wooden schooners were the economic mainstay of American shipping between the Civil War period and World War I. They were the sailing workhorses of the Pacific.

The Churchill was carrying a cargo of copra (the dried meat or nut of the coconut) from Nukualofa, Tonga, to Seattle, Washington, when she ran aground on a reef at French Frigate Shoals on Sept. 27, 1917. All members of her 12-man crew were rescued by a nearby vessel. Subsequently, the Churchill's crew filed affidavits charging Captain Charles Granzow with the intentional destruction of the ship. (A mysterious fire broke out after he had sent the others away in the small boats.)
Rigging components (deadeyes) at the wreck site correspond in size to the lower shrouds of a 600-ton vessel
Rigging components (deadeyes) at the wreck site correspond in size to the lower shrouds of a 600-ton vessel (Credit: Tane Casserley/NOAA)
The captain was later arrested on charges of espionage. The 2007 survey initiated at French Frigate Shoals provides a glimpse into a special class of commercial cargo carriers from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and a better understanding of the large fleet of sailing schooners built on the West Coast for the Pacific trades.



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