Pacific Mail Steamer Rio de Janeiro : LUSENET : San Francisco History : One Thread

I was shocked to read in the Examiner's "Reflections on a Century that a major maritime disaster actually occurred near the shores of our own Golden Gate. I had never heard or read anything of this accident before, but apparently on the morning of February 22, 1901, the Pacific Mail Steamer Rio de Janeiro struck the jagged rocks near Land's End and Fort Point, killing 110 people.

Does anyone know who these people were or where they were coming from? Has there ever been any other sea disasters in or around the bay that resulted in a loss of life?

I have always been amazed that with so many ferries crossing the bay before the bridges were built, that none ever hit each. Now I wonder if maybe some did and I just never heard of it.

-- Michael Binetti (, January 27, 2000


The Rio de Jainero was inbound from Honolulu enroute from Japan. She anchored off the Cliff House on Feb. 21 due to poor visibility, but when the fog lifted in the early AM the pilot and captain made the unwise decision to enter the Golden Gate. Historians still argue whether she hit the rocks near Fort Point because her sunken hull was located more than a decade ago on the north side of the Gate near Pt. Diablo. The Rio (or what's left of her)lies in about 150 feet of pitch black water. No one has tried to dive on her. It's better that way.

SF Bay has been seen hundreds of shipwrecks over the last 200+ years, including at least one major ferry collision. The Rio was only the most dramatic incident due to the high loss of life. The Golden Gate is notorious for its treacherous currents, frequent fog, and rocky, narrow shores. If you're interested in learning more, I recommend "Shipwrecks of San Francisco Bay" by Stephen Haller and Jim Delgado.

-- John Martini (, January 28, 2000.

The most famous ferry collision in the bay took place on 30-Nov-1901, when the San Rafael and the Sausalito, both owned by the North Pacific Coast Railroad, collided near Alcatraz. It was very foggy and dark when the single-ended San Rafael left the Ferry Building and the double-ended Sausalito left Sausalito at about the same time, 6:15 pm.

Each captain each heard the other's whistle near Alcatraz. They turned the wrong way to pass and the San Rafael drifted broadside into the Sausalito. The boats were locked together for 20 minutes before the San Rafael sank, so most passengers were able to walk across a plank to the Sausalito. Some people panicked and jumped into the bay. One to four people died and many were injured. Both captains were found to be at fault.

Another fatality was Dick, the horse who pulled freight trucks on and off of the San Rafael. He went down in his stall.

Two lawsuits contributed to the demise of the railroad.

Jack London's "The Sea Wolf" begins with a scene based on the collision.

-- Joe Thompson (, January 29, 2000.

I found a newspaper "The Bulletin" dated Sept. 22 1901 in fair to good condition with pictures and the complete story. If you are still interested in this story I will take copies and send them to you.

-- (C, September 25, 2002.

Thank you! It's nice of you to offer. However, I took John Martini's suggestion 2 and a half years ago and purchased the book "Shipwrecks of San Francisco Bay" by Stephen Haller and Jim Delgado. It's filled with great pictures and information about many of the shipwrecks that occurred in and around the bay. But I think it's great that you responded. This is one of the things I love about this site. Ask a question and who knows, someone might offer up a response even 2 and a half years later. Thanks again.

-- Michael S. Binetti (, September 25, 2002.

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