John Vonderlin: “Hell No, We Won’t Tow”

Story by John Vonderlin
Email John ([email protected])

Hi June,
Remember I mentioned how little help
you could expect if you got in trouble on
the ocean a hundred years ago? Here’s a
story about two guys experience in 1909
that helped me form that belief.
Enjoy. John

THURSDAY JULY15 th, 1909
Three Mariners at Granada After
42 Hours in Open Boat
Leave Two Disabled Craft to
Be Wrecked Off Halfmoon Bay

Safely landing through the surf at
Mira Mar beach near Granada, Half
moon bay, after a perilous 42 hours in
a dory, Captain R. H. Lawton, 2865 Oc-
tavia street, this city, and T. C. Preston
of Santa Cruz, engineer of the ex-
cursion launch, J. C. Elliott, with J. P.
Conwell, sailor, of the two masted
gasolene (sic)schooner Spray, ended their
desperate adventures just after mid-
night yesterday morning. The small
boat, in which they had spent two days
and two nights without provisions or
water grounded in good shape on the
At the same time, approximately,
the two disabled and derelict vessels,
the Elliott and the Spray, grounded at
points below Halfmoon bay, the Spray
off San Gregorlo and the Elliott at
Long Bridge.
The three mariners, after their tor-
turing experience in the open boat,
showed little effects of the exposure,
and after they had been given food
and a chance to sleep came on to San
Francisco yesterday afternoon over the
Ocean Shore. The two crafts were left
in the hands of the salvage men.
Lawton and Preston were on the
launch Elliott, which was coming north
from San Pedro, towing the Spray.
Conwell was at the wheel of the tow.
When off San Gregorio the engine of
the Elliott became disabled and the
launch and its helpless crew were at
the pitiless caprice of a strong wind
and a flowing tide. The men saw that
they were helpless on the heavy
launches. Before Dawn Monday morn-
ing they tried to attract the attention
of passing vessels by burning signals
on the deck of the Elliott. They set
fire to the bedding of the vessel, and
part of the fore rail caught fire from
the signal lights. About dawn they
sighted an Italian fishing smack, but
no help was offered.
All the time the launch and its cum-
bersome tow were drifting toward the
reefs and rocks, and the men saw their
only chance was to get of in their
They were in this small boat two
full days and a night and a half.
After dark on Tuesday night their
boat drifted inside the reef at Half
moon bay, but there were no crafts
in the inner bay able to give relief.
Watch fires were lighted on the beach
and under their red glare the men
steered their frail little dory toward
the shore, through the pounding surf
and onto the sands where they landed
alive, but on the verge of collapse.

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