The reason will shock you.
The impact of a quarter-mile-long nuclear-powered object with a thirteen-mile-long solid rock is prodigious. The drowned island tore a sixty-foot-long gash in the side of the Enterprise’s torpedo-resistant hull. Three of the four giant propellers were totaled and the port keel gone. The giant warship floated off the shoal and righted itself with counterflooding; later, Marines stood guard against sharks while divers assessed the damage. If naval distraction and miscommunication got the captain into trouble, naval preparedness got the ship out of danger in good order.
Spend some time with Google Earth, an atlas or a globe and you will see that California, for peoples used to the Atlantic, was indeed the far side of the world well into the nineteenth century. What is now one of the most populated, navalized coastlines on Earth remained poorly known even to mariners.
Somehow such mystery lingers, for once the world’s most powerful warship nearly wrecked herself upon a drowned island one hundred miles west of San Diego. Chris Dixon, who masterfully chronicled the origin of giant-wave surfing in his 2011 book Ghost Wave, surfaced this sea story of the USS Enterprise’s 1985 encounter with the Cortes Bank, where rock, water and wind collide to form sea monsters.
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The Channel Islands of Southern California make up the visible heights of a vast submerged mountainous region nearly the size of the Sierra Nevada—the Southern California Borderland. Reaching from Point Conception to the north coast of Baja California and stretching hundreds of miles out to sea, the Borderland forms a huge landscape of peaks, ridges and basins up to a mile deep.
The first people to settle the Channel Islands during the last Ice Age experienced places very different from today. Sea levels fifteen thousand years ago were one hundred feet lower or more. Pygmy mammoths only six feet tall roamed the single great island off the Santa Barbara coast now made up of the four islands of the Channel Islands National Park.
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