In 1850, the Baltimore-built clipper brig “Frolic,” en-route to Gold Rush San Francisco from China, wrecked on a reef just north of today’s lighthouse. Her story is among the most fascinating in California shipwreck history. The site, Frolic Cove, has been designated as a California State Underwater Park.
Success from Failure: The Saga of the Gold Rush Frolic
by Robert S. Becker, August 2008
Frisky Frolic quits China that May,
Proud Capt. Faucon at the wheel;
Gold fever fills “city by the bay,”
What better sailor to close the deal?
Packed with Gold Rush mining gear
Are fickle charts with unseen doom,
Not storms, not pirates rouse the fear
From maps that ill-fated crews entomb.
With 2/3s sail, steady locomotion,
Summer fog shades the Golden State,
Shrieks at night, alarm, commotion,
Horror of rocks, the very worst fate.
The panicked crew swerves hard left,
But ocean surge rebuffs this flight,
A deafening crunch, rudder bereft,
A sailboat adrift is a forlorn sight.
Yet Frolic is buried next to land,
A sandy shoreline ends this saga,
In depths shallow enough to stand,
And walk on planks to terra firma.
While five from fear won’t leave the ship,
The crew Mendocino bound that night,
By dawn one longboat restarts the trip,
San Francisco south – or tragic plight.
Days of hard rowing, arrive Fort Ross,
Thirsty, hungry, yet out of harm’s way;
Soon enough Faucon informs his boss:
“All lost at sea, glad insurance paid.”
Must we swallow this tale contrived,
Or celebrate Faucon’s great pluck?
The settlement made, all survived,
Crash written off, just bad luck.
Yet missing the mark sets our theme:
Heroic intentions oft reversed,
Next Spring’s failed salvage scheme
Leaves lumberman Ford feeling curst.
Yet rich he becomes, growing the region,
Establishing Mendocino’s first mill.
In no time Pacific logging was legion,
Never, again, was the Northwest still.
Wood mills at rivers flowing seaward
Drew “Doghole” schooners by the score;
To defy years of shipwrecks battered,
Our famed Lighthouse, beaming offshore.
Success from failure – what a legacy,
By founders driven by travelers’ itch.
Ironic ends make outcomes crazy,
Yet riveting stories that still bewitch.