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Sunday, August 01, 1982

The other shipyards

Ernest D. Wichels

The Clamp recieved four WWII battle Stars

Offhand, most readers think of only one shipyard that has ever existed on the Napa River (or Mare Island Strait).  Of course, that would be Mare Island Naval Shipyard, established by Farragut on Sept. 16, 1854, which has overhauled or modernized thousands of vessels and built over 520 craft.

But there have been others.  In 1881, Vanderbilt and Secor, New York contractors, secured the contract to build the USS Monadnock, constructing a building ways at the foot of Maryland Street in Vallejo at the junction of Santa Clara Street.  In September 1883 the Monadnock was launched, but because of financial difficulties experienced by the builders, the Navy at Mare Island seized the ship and towed it across the channel.

Congress finally appropriated sufficient money to permit Mare Island to complete and commission the ship.  Beginning about 1890. at almost the same spot, the Aden brothers one of the true pioneer families of Solano County established a boat-building yard and a lumber yard, and operated a ferry service between here and San Francisco. Such boats as the Sunol and Anna Aden plied these waters.

The Monticello steamship line (Hatch brothers) created too much competition, and in the early 1900s the Aden boats ceased operating.  In 1905 the Standard, Launch Co. built a boat-building yard at the foot of Ohio Street, producing many boats and launches. Most of our senior citizens will remember this local boat-building yard as the William D. Nutz yard, along with the collection of workmen’s cabins at the foot of Ohio Street, dubbed “Nutzville.”

Another Napa River shipyard only a dream was the plan of local contractor J.W. Doty and a San Francisco financier named Hausbrough to build a large yard for constructing lumber schooners. This was in March 1917 when the large Union Tile Co. and brickyard at the north end of Wilson Avenue (east end of the Sears Point bridge) was about to go out of business.  The Vallejo Evening Chronicle re-ported the developers had two contracts to build schooners and would employ some 300 men. But the shipyard was never built.

But up the Napa River an honest-to-goodness shipyard was built by Basalt Rock Co. at the foot of Suscol Creek where the Kaiser Pipe Plant is now located.  It seems it all began when Basalt required more and more barges to haul the tens of thousands of tons of rock with which to build the perimeter of Treasure Island in the San Francisco Bay.  They began to build barges when World War II came and with it a demand for all sorts of small Navy craft and auxiliaries. It was a natural transition to build ARS ships for the Navy, and a number were built at this Napa plant.

Here is the story of one of these salvage vessels, the USS Clamp, launched at Napa Oct. 24, 1942, and commissioned. Aug. 23, 1943.  In September 1943 the CIamp sailed to Pearl Harbor, and in November arrived in the Ellice islands for combat salvage’ operations supporting the Gilbert Islands invasion. On Nov. 10 it came under air attack five times, but escaped damage from these Japanese planes.  The Clamp conducted salvage operations on the damaged LST-34 and the Hoel (DD-533) and the Macaw (ASR-11).

After an overhaul in February 1944 at Pearl Harbor, the Clamp investigated sunken Japanese vessels off Saipan for salvage value, capturing 10 prisoners during this work.

It arrived at Iwo Jima in February 1945 and was engaged for several months in salvage work during the invasion and capture of that island.  The Clamp then saw service at Guam, Ulithi and Leyte. At Kerama Retto for an entire month it provided emergency service to the heavy cruiser Indianapolis, a kamikaze victim.  In May 1945 it assisted in the damage repair to two destroyers at Ie Shima.  In the fall 1945, the Clamp was on the West Coast for overhaul and sailed for . Pearl Harbor in March 1946. Then it went to Bikini Atoll for towing, diving and demolition duties in Operation Crossroads.

The Clamp returned to San Francisco in October 1946 and was placed out of commission, in reserve, at San Pedro in May 1947. The Clamp received four battle stars for World War II service.  The other Napa-built ships also had outstanding service records in World War II.  In previous columns we have cited the outstanding record of Benicia and its shipyards, which produced scores of sailing vessels like the famous Galilee.