Lost sunken ship reappears 80 years later off Coronado

It’s become quite the attraction off the coast of Coronado. A shipwreck, long ago left under the water and out of sight, emerged recently when the thrashing waves from El Nino removed the sand covering the ship.

Hundreds of people spent their Superbowl Sunday not in front of the television, but exploring the piece of San Diego’s past.

Photo: Aldryn Estacio of FlytPath.com

The 300-foot-long SS Monte Carlo shipwreck was exposed above water during an extreme low tide Saturday.

The ship that was once used for gambling and prostitution ran aground during a storm back in 1937. CW6’s Gary Buzel waded out to the wreck to get up close and personal.

“It’s pretty amazing! I’ve lived here all my life and I’ve been to this beach many times and I had no idea it was here,” said Jill Raschke. “Oh my gosh it’s the shape of a ship! It’s pretty awesome.”

“I knew this was my only chance to see a shipwreck!” said Aimy Smith of Chula Vista.

To understand what you see, we need to go back to the 1930s. Coronado and the rest of America were emerging out of Prohibition in the 1930s.

Gambling and prostitution remained illegal — that’s were California’s mob-owned gambling ships came in.

Anchored several miles off the coast in international waters, these “sin ships” had full casinos, dance halls and brothels. Even Hollywood made movies about them, like the movie “Gambling Ship” starring Cary Grant.


Photo: Aldryn Estacio of FlytPath.com

This is when the SS Monte Carlo was born.

“The ship was anchored off Long Beach in 1933, but they were still getting a lot of pressure from the police to not have the gambling organization going,” said Leslie Crawford of the Coronado Historical Association.

Crawford is the author of “Images of America – Coronado.”

“So after a couple of years, they came down to San Diego in 1936. Just 3 miles off the coast of Coronado, the SS Monte Carlo set up shop. There were advertisements in the local Union Tribune advertising dining dancing and dames. Ferries would leave the Hawthorne Street dock every 15 minutes bringing patrons aboard,” Crawford said.

“All was running well… until new years day in 1937 when a storm moved in. It was bad weather, high surf, rough seas… And the SS Monte Carlo was in trouble. At about 3 o’clock in the morning the chain broke so it started drifting. She ran aground where she lies today just south of the hotel del where the city took control of the ship,” Crawford continued.


Photo: Aldryn Estacio of FlytPath.com

Anything that was gambling-related they tried to confiscate, but the SS Monte Carlo sat on her beach grave just to fade away.

Fast forward to 2016.

Once you look at the wreck up close you start to see intricate things that still remain on the wreck decades later, like these parts of the ships electrical system and these large cargo holds in the center of the ship’s hull.

If you plan on coming down to the SS Monte Carlo wreck to check it out, be careful of inherent dangers, like when rogue waves come over the deck of the ship causing you to loose your footing.

Coronado lifeguards advise visitors to wear sandals and to be careful of the slippery surfaces on the ship along with its deck portholes.

A piece of our area’s history nearly 80 years later shows herself, reminding us of days long gone.