2003 Frolic Survey Project

Dive Into History, Mapping a Gold Rush Shipwreck

Wreck Site is a Candidate for State Underwater Park

During the summer of 2003, a team of divers led by four prominent maritime archaeologists explored and mapped the remains of the clipper Frolic, one of California’s most important Gold Rush-Era shipwrecks. The team will return July 26 through August 5, 2004 to complete the project.

The Frolic, laden with Chinese household goods bound for San Francisco, crashed into the Mendocino coast in July 1850, at the north end of today’s Point Cabrillo Light Station & Nature Preserve. The lost bounty included 21,000 porcelain bowls, marble inset tables, a prefabricated house with oyster shell windows, and 6,109 bottles of Edinburgh ale.

Although the ship’s crew, the Pomo Indians and 20th century divers have claimed much of the cargo, more may be buried under the remaining hull, according to San Jose State anthropology professor Tom Layton, Ph.D. Dr. Layton was the principal shipwreck researcher and is the author of two Frolic books.

“Because of its age and cargo, the Frolic is one of the most important Gold Rush wrecks for California history,” explained Napa Valley College Professor Sheli Smith, Ph.D., a maritime archaeologist specializing in Gold Rush era artifacts. “It’s certainly the most well researched Gold Rush ship not yet professionally analyzed.”

Dr. Smith coordinated the survey project for the California Department of Parks and Recreation. Regarding the quality of the investigators, she commented: “This team is quite remarkable, as good as they come — all principals are leaders in the field who bring skills at the top of their game.”

The project was funded by individual contributions and a grant from State Parks to the Point Cabrillo Lightkeepers Association (PCLK), whose volunteers and board members provided the dive team with logistical support throughout the project.

See underwater video of the project.

The Team