The Facebook message was cryptic but enthusiastic: “We found a shipwreck!” But the finder was keeping its spot secret, replying to a request for directions with essentially this: We’ll meet you in Marina and take you on a long walk to it, but we’re not telling.
My girlfriend and I went after it anyway.
Thinking there was too much foot traffic and surf south for a shipwreck to remain, we went north from Marina.
We walked past the Marina Coast Water District offices at the end of Reservation Road, the site of two huge, circular clarifiers from the wastewater treatment plant that was decommissioned in 1989.
We walked past the Marina Dunes Preserve, once thought to be inhabited by the Ohlone people, and later bought in 1988 by the Monterey Peninsula Regional Park District. We absorbed the steady roar of the waves, the smell of decaying kelp and the sight, smell and sound of crunchy sand-crab exoskeletons on the beach.
We walked, and saw the cabin of a boat. It was not the shipwreck. It was a sand dredging boat moored in the middle of a 500-foot-long, brackish green pond – dug right out of the middle of the beach – anchored by cables like a circus tent. The boat is at least 12 years old and belongs to the sand-mining Lapis plant of Cemex.
We kept walking. We walked for minutes more – maybe 30? 45? – and then saw a speck on the horizon. We found it.
It was a stubborn rectangular barge about 150 feet long, rusted, hulking, so close to the shoreline one could walk up and touch it without getting wet.
Seagulls stood on the sand facing it like an audience, or perched atop it. The surf encircled its fore and aft hull like a hug. There it sat, near the mouth of the Salinas River’s long journey to the sea, immobile and mysterious and incredulous.
How it got there turned out to be harder to discover than the wreck itself.
No one seemed to know anything about it – not Marina Coast, Moss Landing Marine Laboratories, the Moss Landing Harbormaster or the Monterey Peninsula Regional Park District, though one staffer helpfully added, “I hope there’s not a tiger on it.” California Department of Fish and Game didn’t return calls.
Public lands botanist and Marina Mayor Bruce Delgado suggested contacting the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Diane Kodama, refuge manager for the service’s Salinas River Wildlife Refuge, answered.
“Sauce Bros. is the name of the barge,” she said. “It was grounded in 1983 after a storm. [The owners] attempted to move it but were unsuccessful. There was no fuel in it, so it posed no environmental threat.”
It’s speculated that it was used to open a channel for the Salinas River to drain into the ocean after a storm caused flooding of the Highway 1 bridge. A 1991 military report for the Defense Environmental Restoration Program for Formerly Used Defense Sites mentions the barge.
“The site was in a natural state, except for a beached barge,” the report reads. “The derelict barge, marked ‘Sauce Bros.,’ drifted ashore after a storm in December 1983.”
The Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute offers another twist.
Chris Grech, MBARI’s deputy director of marine operations, had checked it out himself.
“It’s probably decayed too much [to move],” he says. “The surf will beat it up really good. The force of the waves and the highly oxygenated aeration of the ocean makes for a really active, corrosive environment.”
He and Bryn Hooten of Friends of Moss Landing Marine Labs suggested contacting the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary.
“Nobody’s doing any research on its [environmental] impact right now,” said Andrew DeVogelaere, research coordinator of the SIMoN Program at the sanctuary offices.
He added second-hand information from one of their “salvage guys” that it was full of quarry rock, making made it too heavy to move.
Though Kodama says fishermen like the barge as a fishing hole, she cautions that the waves around the barge are strong enough to sweep people away. The curious, trying to climb on the barge, can fall through the deteriorated deck into the hull.
What they might fall into, after 30 years, should probably remain a mystery, as much as the Sauce Bros. story seems to be.
But the trek across this elemental, inspiring and isolated stretch of the coast rewards the effort with beauty and mystery. Barge or no barge.