Posted by: Jack Henry | January 26, 2023

Editor’s Corner: Sunken Ships and Poop Decks

Fairly recently in San Diego, we’ve had a major climate change: rain. Along with that, the ocean has been particularly active, with giant waves and king tides. I think I shared this photo with you before: it was my snapshot of the SS Monte Carlo, a ship that sank off the coast of Coronado Island, in 1937. I was so excited when the low tides last year gave me this fantastic glimpse of the sunken ship, up close and personal:

Well, my friends, that was child’s play. This year’s rocking and rolling waves (and the local news chopper) gave us a picture of the ship you might find more interesting:

What does this have to do with English, though? Well, my mom sent me the photo above because we walk that beach almost every weekend, but we didn’t do it when “the boat was out,” because there was a water contamination notice. A lot of different “pollutants” were headed our way from the Tijuana River. Mom and I joked about the sunken ship and “poop decks” (because we’re very mature women), and of course, we started wondering where the heck that term came from.

As promised, Mom, here’s what I found. According to Wikipedia:

The name originates from the French word for stern, la poupe, from Latin puppis. Thus, the poop deck is technically a stern deck, which in sailing ships was usually elevated as the roof of the stern or “after” cabin, also known as the “poop cabin.”

On sailing ships, the helmsman would steer the craft from the quarterdeck, immediately in front of the poop deck. At the stern, the poop deck provides an elevated position ideal for observation. On modern, motorized warships, the ship functions which were once carried out on the poop deck have been moved to the bridge, usually located in a superstructure.

There you have it! Now a few interesting facts about the SS Monte Carlo, pictured floating (below):

The ship

  • Was launched in 1921 as the oil tanker SS Old North State, later named McKittrick.
  • Is made of concrete.
  • Became a gambling and prostitution ship (in international waters) in the 1930s.
  • Was originally located off of Long Beach.
  • Was later moved to Coronado in 1936.
  • Lost its anchor hold and drifted towards shore on New Year’s Day, 1937.
  • Became illegal when it left international waters and touched the shore, so nobody claimed the ship.
  • Is speculated to still contain up to $150,000 worth of silver dollar coins in the wreckage.

I hope you’ve enjoyed today’s history and English lesson!

Kara Church | Technical Editor, Advisory | Technical Publications

Pronouns: she/her | Call via Teams |

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