Bound from Puget Sound with passengers, mail and freight for Alaska, the State of California called at the Admiralty Trading Company cannery situated at Gambier Bay, some 90 miles south of Juneau. After pulling away from the cannery dock, Captain Thomas H. Cann, Jr. steered a course that his government chart showed to be clear of hazards. Steaming at 13 knots, the massive liner passed over a submerged pinnacle that ripped open her hull. The captain attempted to run the liner onto the beach to keep her from sinking, but the flood of icy seawater was too great. The vessel sank in deep water with the loss of 31 lives.
The shipwreck was located by sport divers in the 1960s, when the purser's safe was raised and found to contain a shipment of gold pocket-watches that had been consigned to a jeweler in Skagway, and never delivered. The State of California lies upright at a steep angle, with her bow in 70 feet of water and her stern in 210 feet. With the advent of technical diving techniques that include rebreathers and mixed-gas blends, the deeper sections of the wreck have been explored more thoroughly in recent years. Even so, given the remote location and challenging dive conditions, there are many portions of the wreck that have hardly been seen at all.
A detailed account of the State of California shipwreck written by Steve Lloyd was published in the Sea Chest, the journal of the Puget Sound Maritime Historical Society. Click the page on the right to open a PDF of Steve's article in a new window.