USSB Concrete Ships
In 1910 a Norwegian civil engineer named Fougner thought of using concrete to build ships. It wasn't until 1917, when wartime steel shortages required the use of cement for construction that Fougner's idea was used. Concrete ships formed another solution to the shipping problem, but as yet they were initially undeveloped.
Due to a critical shortage of steel, during World War I, the federal government turned to experimental design concrete ships. An emergency fleet of 38 concrete ships were planned, by the United States Sipping Board. The 40-ship "stone fleet" was to have hulls made from sand, gravel, and cement that enmeshed a fabric woven of steel rods. That shipbuilding activity was essentially an experiment intended to test whether concrete and steel mesh was a reasonable alternative for steel conservation. Only 12 of the concrete ships were ever put into service. Two others had construction begun, but were never completed. Probably the most peculiar type of launching was to be seen in putting concrete ships upon the wrater. These ships were frequently built upside down, for the pouring of the concrete was made much easier by this system; and the ship launched into the water in this position. The ship was so constructed as to right itself automatically, taking about twenty minutes to turn over into its upright position.
The "Atlantus" was the second prototype, a 3,000 ton 250 foot long freighter, built with a 5 inch thick hull of special concrete aggregate, to correct shattering and brittleness problems found in the first concrete ship. With the end of the war, the more efficient steel ships were again available. The "Concrete Fleet" was de-commissioned, and the "Atlantus' was sent to the "Bone Yard" at "Pigs Point", in Norfolk, Virginia in September of 1920. A year later, the "Atlantus" was stripped after being purchased by a salvage company.
Three concrete ships were built at the U.S. Naval Shipyard in Oakland, California. These ships were the Faith, the Peralta, and the Palo Alto. The "Faith," a new concrete ship, was over four hundred feet long and had a capacity of over ten thousand tons. The Peralta and the Palo Alto were built for wartime use as tankers, however World War One ended before ship construction was finished -- so they were never used.
The Palo Alto remained docked in Oakland until 1929, when the Cal-Nevada Company bought the ship with the idea of making her into an amusement and fishing ship. Her maiden voyage was made under tow to Seacliff State Beach. Once positioned at the beach, the sea cocks were opened and the Palo Alto settled to the ocean bottom. By the summer of 1930 a pier had been built leading to the ship, the ship was remodeled. A dance floor on the main deck was added, also a cafe in the superstructure was built, as was a fifty-four foot heated swimming pool, and a series of carnival type concessions were placed on the afterdeck. The Cal-Nevada Company went broke after two seasons -- then the Palo Alto was stripped, leaving the ship and the pier used only for fishing.
Off Hwy. 1 in Aptos, Seacliff State Beach is nearly two miles of long sandy beach under sandstone cliffs. Good weather and nice facilities make this beach popular with visitors. The pier ends in the concrete ship Palo Alto. Storms have taken their toll on the cement ship over the years and it is now mostly fenced off from human access. Today the cement ship serves as a roost for sea birds and a haul out for harbor seals.
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