Schooner in a harbor with small boat nearby

Schooners in Mendocino Harbor, 1865. Two sailing ships at the Mendocino shipping point are being loading with lumber. A lighter, or loading boat, is in the water near the apron chutes on the right. Kent’s Point (later Chapman’s Point) is visible in the background. (Kelley House Collection, Kelley House Photographs)

In the Spring of 1884, the Mendocino Lumber Company hired Captain J. Palmer, an experienced diver and explosives expert, to remove the top of an underwater rock that posed a hazard to ships in the Mendocino Harbor.

The Beacon described the operation, “There is a sunken rock about seventy-five yards from the bottom of the chutes which has occasioned some damage and any amount of annoyance. Vessels must necessarily pass very near it in hauling under the chutes and in getting away when loaded.” At low tide, the rock was within 6 feet of the surface. The plan called for the demolition of the top portion of the rock, providing at least 15 feet of clearance at all times.

“Captain Palmer has large experience in the business, having first gained a knowledge of it in the government service under the best engineers, and for many years since he has gone on improving upon what he had previously learned. He is quite at home under the water remaining below a half a day at a time making explorations or removing fragments of rock, which he first shivers with giant powder. His method is to go down and place a can containing it on the top of the rock. He then ascends to the deck of the lighter which is hauled away to a safe distance, when, by means of a connecting wire, an electrical spark is communicated to the powder and the explosion takes place.”

“After each explosion the Captain goes down and pushes off the loosened fragments and deposits another can of powder and the same process is repeated, until the required depth be reached.”

On May 3, 1884, the Beacon reported, “Captain Palmer has completed the work of removing the rock which he has been working at for some time past, and now vessels can pull into or out from the chute with perfect safety.”

Mendocino from the Beginning: Twenty Billion Years of History of a Small Town by Don and Wilma Tucker – A Kelley House Museum publication. Geology, climate, redwoods, natives, explorers, logging, settlers, transportation, immigrants and architecture are all covered with more than 40 black and white photographs. $15.