Doghole Ports

July 2017

Last year, maritime archaeologists in Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary investigated historical "doghole ports." These tiny ports got their names because sailors said they were so small, only a dog could turn around in them. A network of doghole ports supported a thriving lumber industry. Check out our video to discover what the archaeologists found!


This project is a cooperative survey of the doghole ports of Sonoma County to get not only on the ground, but into the water, to take a look at these places, seemingly isolated more than 100 years ago, that were connected by regular shipping that connected not only these ports to each other but back to the big market in San Francisco.

For the folks going to the doghole ports, it was all about lumber.

One of these coves shipped out 30 million board-feet of timber.

And that's because this rich marine environment nurtured huge groves of redwood, as well as Douglas fir.

Right where we're standing basically was a sawmill.

The guys would go up, cut trees, drag them down, mill them, and then slide them right over to that point.

And then on a chute, which was wire and wood and a huge platform that stuck out over the water, slide those down onto the deck of a ship that had sailed in, and was anchored directly below the end of the chute.

Now, the term "doghole port" came about because the mariners joked, saying that the ports were so small that only a dog could turn around in them.

But what we're doing here for our maritime cultural landscapes survey is trying to connect the water to the land and really give a great landscape survey and tell people about what was going on here long ago because this was a very important trade for California.

We are doing a combination water and land survey.

So for the land portion, we have a team that's out there surveying, and they're recording all of the remnants of the doghole ports, the iron pins and eyelets that are still in the rocks along the shoreline here.

And then we have the underwater team, which I'm a part of, and we're out here on the research vessel Fulmar and we're diving, looking at some of the shipwrecks that we already know about in the area.

We're also trying to locate some new shipwrecks that were associated with this lumber trade.

It's a bit like a detective story.

It's really fun trying to put all the pieces together to solve some great mystery.

And when you finally do find the shipwreck, you have this great opportunity to be able to study it record it and learn from it.

And piece together a bit more about the maritime history here in California.

So why are there so many shipwrecks off of California? Well there's a lot of shipwrecks everywhere.

If you think, any time you have ships sailing near land, you're bound to have trouble.

There's bad weather, luckily we didn't have any of that today.

And lots of submerged pinnacles.

So if you figure, you know, there were several hundred years of maritime traffic heading up and down the coast, mariners back in the 19th century often hit the rocks or had fog, like you see in the background, and would run ashore.

These shipwrecks can really tell us about our past.

They are known as time capsules under water.

So it reflects a moment in time and we can explore where we don't have records right now.

While many might consider history to be the story of great leaders, generals, battles, kings and queens, that's just a small part of it.

The real history is the stories that relate to how we as humans have worked with each other, how we've expanded across the planet, how we've survived, how we've created not just civilizations, but lives for ourselves.

And that is what history is all about.

It's the history of all of us.