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Record Waves Break CA ‘Cement Ship’

Thursday, January 26, 2017

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The so-called “cement ship” that lies off the California coast in Monterey Bay flipped and was broken apart by strong waves last weekend, and will remain in place to decay over time.

The S.S. Palo Alto has sat on the edge of Monterey Bay on Seacliff State Beach for more than 85 years. Over the weekend of Jan. 21-22, the bay saw record-breaking 34-foot waves, which ultimately split a 50-foot section of stern off the ship.

Ship History

Originally built as a tanker in 1919, when steel was scarce because of the war effort, the concrete ship never saw service.

When it was moved to the beach in Aptos, California, in 1929, it was partially sunk so it would rest on the sea floor, then converted into a tourist attraction, with a dance floor and other features. After two years, the company running it closed, and the ship became a fishing pier. It has been off-limits to beachgoers for years now because of its state of deterioration.

SS Palo Alto
Scott Dexter, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Palo Alto, shown here in January 2016, has been off-limits to beachgoers for years now because of its state of deterioration.

In 2006, the ship was subject to a $1.7 million cleanup to remove oil from its fuel tanks, where wildlife had been diving. In February 2016, waves caused the concrete tanker to crack. After the latest damage, state officials said they didn’t intend to repair or scuttle the ship, but would let nature take its course, turning the ship into an artificial reef as the concrete breaks down.

'Symbol for Aptos'

Removing or demolishing the remains of the ship would reportedly be cost-prohibitive, and a representative of the California Department of Parks and Recreation told the Santa Cruz Sentinel that the ship became such a part of the community, it only makes sense to let it remain, even as it disintegrates.

“The ship still remains an icon and a symbol for Aptos and that beach. There is a significant amount of history there. It’s a landmark,” Bill Wolcott, a public safety superintendent with the department, told the newspaper.

Other Concrete Ships

According to, the first concrete boat was built in France in 1848. The U.S. government authorized the building of fleets of concrete ships during both WWI and WWII, when steel was being used elsewhere for military purposes.

The Palo Alto’s sister ship, the S.S. Peralta, is still afloat today in British Columbia, as part of a floating breakwater for a pulp and paper mill.



Tagged categories: concrete; Ships and vessels; Weathering

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