By Roberto Junco

Last June, at the island of Margarita, Baja California Sur, Mexico, we continued recording the wrecks that lie in its waters, mainly steamers on their way north. Thanks to the collaboration of Peter Tattersfield of the Kaxaan Nautical Foundation, we had news of a new wreck in the area. The pictures furnished by Tatersffield showed artillery shells similar to other wrecks found in Mexico, like in the Liberty Ship, SS Lewis Cass at Guadalupe Island. 

Peter Tattersfield, SAS-INAH collaborator of the Kaxaan Nautica Foundation, inspecting an artillery shell at the wreck of SS Westbank Park. Photo courtesy SAS-INAH/ Kaxaan Nautical Foundation)

So far, we had documented four sites in the waters of Margarita, the gold rush side paddle wheeler SS Independence sunk in 1853, the SS Indiana sunk in 1909, the SS Colombia sunk in 1931, and the H1 seawolf submarine sunk in 1920.

This new wreck seemed promising. We dove the site, but little could be seen under the cold water of the Pacific from the kelp and currents. We followed a trail of metal pieces and eventually found a large bronze propeller. Looking at newspaper databases and possible candidates to Id the ship, the identity surfaced. A WWII Canadian merchant ship matched the site, the SS Westbank Park. The ship had been part of the Canadian Merchant Marine, being the Park Ships similar to the American Liberty ships, from a design by J.L. Thomson and Sons of Sunderland, England.

Park ships were named after the National Parks of Canada. They were 10,000 dead weight tons ships with a length of 134 meters and triple expansion engines. They were armed to defend against attack, thus the artillery shells that were found. While on its way home to Vancouver, just a few months after the armistice, on 7 October 1945, the SS Westbank Park ran aground at the entrance of Magdalena Bay. All souls were saved.

Report on the loss of the freighter Westbank Park in 1945.
The crew of the Westbank Park. Photo from the article by Lew Brewer, The Loss of the Westbank Park Nauticapedia ca 2016.

As I write, I listen to Woody Guthrie’s: “The Sinking of the Reuben James” (Guthrie was in the Merchant Marine sailing Liberty and Victory ships much like the Canadian Parks). The words: tell me what were their names, what were their names, keep revolving in my mind. I think of the men lost in the wrecks around Margarita and how we archaeologists can give them a voice. Now plays the song “What did the deep sea say”, which makes me think of the great privilege we archaeologists have in retelling stories long lost under the waves. While looking for information on the SS Westbank Park, another wreck showed up, the tuna clipper Louis S, and north of it the SS Pleiades and the SS Golden City. More research is needed to document these wrecks in the sea of Baja!

Westbank Park

To read more:
Heal S.C. 2004, A Great Fleet of Ships: The Canadian Forts & Parks. Vanwell Publiching Ltd., Canada.

Categorised in: