Velero [Sp. sailor], a series of research vessels designed and built for G. Allan Hancock, and his namesake foundation at the University of Southern California, each more advanced than the other, and every one a craft more fully equipped for marine scientific investigation. Pioneering oceanographic research was conducted in the eastern Pacific waters, equatorial islands and portions of the Caribbean.
- Velero (#212324) (1914- ), Hancock’s first vessel, was later stretched from 78 to 99 feet by cutting her in half and adding 21 feet. Her home port was Los Angeles. Hancock took Velero on a several month-long voyage around the Baja peninsula and coast of Mexico. The trip was not for scientific purposes.
- Velero II (# ) was built after World War I in 1922. She was 125 feet in length, and at the time was the only diesel electric-driven cruiser on the Pacific coast. Velero II was taken as far south as Panama with an amateur marine biologist who deepened Hancock's interest in scientific voyages. George Hugh Banning, a guest aboard acting as second mate, dedicated his book, In Mexican Waters (1925), to "Capt. G. Allan Hancock Master of the Velero II .
- Oaxaca (# ) was a vessel Hancock purchased from the British Admiralty and captained following Velero II. Oaxaca carried a crew of thirty-five men and twelve scientists, including representatives of the California Academy of Sciences, on a voyage as far as the Galapagos Islands in 1927.
- Velero III (#230891) (1931- ) was designed by naval architect G. Bruce Newby at Hancock's instruction to both appear and perform in a similar manner to the new United States Coast Guard cutters being built on the Pacific Coast. Velero III launched at Craig Shipbuilding in Long Beach on April 2, 1931. She was 198 feet long with a 30-foot beam, and with her twin Winston diesel engines, she had a cruising range of 10,000 miles without refueling. Velero III made extensive investigations around the California Channel Islands, which resulted in specimen collections and a number of publications. In 1939, Hancock founded the Allan Hancock Foundation, and he gave the Velero III to the Foundation, followed by several other vessels.
Hancock was a donor to the University of Southern California with Velero III eventually becoming R/V Velero III in research associated with the university and a sculpture of the vessel appears on the Hancock Institute for Marine Studies at U.S.C. From 1931 until 1941, during ten expeditions of several months each, the vessel's collection efforts were largely in marine invertebrate zoology between San Francisco and Peru and at the end equaled or surpassed collection efforts in that field by previous ships with Hancock Hall at the University being built as a repository for the collection and data. The ship served the foundation for ten years before she was purchased for war use by the Navy on December 15, 1941, being commissioned as the USS Chalcedony, designated PYC-16 on weather duty for the Hawaiian Sea Frontier. In 1947 the vessel was being operated as the yacht Velero III for Nicholas A. Kessler and in 1948 was registered to Independent Tankships as the yacht Ahmady with the home port of Wilmington, Delaware. In 1949, Velero III was sold to the ruler of Kuwait.
- Velero IV (#255750) (1948+), a 110-foot long, 298-gross-ton single screw vessel of tuna clipper hull design, with a 28-foot beam, launched at National Iron Works, San Diego with dignitaries of the University of Southern California, the Foundation, Navy and science participating. She was built as the last in a series of vessels owned by Captain G. Allen Hancock, this one to serve as a marine laboratory for the University of Southern California. At her launching she carried a 600-h.p. engine and was registered to the University of Southern California. This vessel had a larger capacity and more sophisticated gear for scientific voyages. Velero IV served the foundation after World War II and facilitated additional collections on the California Channel Islands. Jacques Courteau tested skindiving equipment during his excursions on board. Dr. Otis Barton made the record dive in his benthoscope to 4500 feet off the vessel. His record still stands as the deepest dive by a connected submersible. Velero IV was sold by USC in the 1980s and is still active as of 2016 operating out of Seattle as a fishing support vessel.
VELERO CHANNEL ISLANDS FISH COLLECTIONS
- Anacapa Island fish collections:
- * August 1, 1938
- * October 30, 1940
- * February 16, 1941
- * March 16, 1941
- * September 17, 1941
- * April 15, 1950
- Anacapa Island fish collections:
- San Clemente Island fish collections:
“San Clemente Island is the southernmost of the group, directly south of Santa Catalina Island, 19 miles away, and 60 miles from the mainland coast at La Jolla. It is almost as long as Santa Catalina Island, but it has an average width of only 2% miles. The northwest half of the island has much more regular surface than is ordinarily found in these islands, but the remainder of the island is more corrugated. The northeast side is rocky and abrupt, but the southwest side is much less so, the sea slope here being correspondingly more gradual. There is much less kelp around the shores than around San Nicolas or Santa Barbara. There are three harbors near the north end — West Cove, Northwest Harbor, and Wilson Cove — and Pyramid Cove at the south end.
Shore collecting has been done at Northwest Harbor, Pyramid Cove, and Horse Cove (adjacent to Pyramid Cove). Dredging has been done west, north, and east of the north end of the island, in and near Wilson Cove, and in and off Pyramid Cove.”
- * February 18, 1939
- * November 24, 25, 1939
- * December 9, 1939
- * April 22, 1941
- * June 9, 1941
- San Nicolas Island fish collections:
“A small amount of shore collecting has been done at Dutch Harbor on the south coast, the only place around the island that offers even a modicum of shelter. Scattered dredging stations appear north and north- west of the eastern end of the island and in a more concentrated area on the south coast, off Dutch Harbor.”
- * April 11-12, 1940 (Velero III)
- * November 24, 1940 (Velero III)
- * December 12, 1940 (Velero III)
- * March 14, 1968
- * May 8-9, 1968 (Velero IV)
- * July 23, 1968 (Velero IV)
- * August 13, 1969
- Santa Barbara Island fish collections:
“Lying 21 miles to the westward of the northwest end of Santa Cata- lina Island is Santa Barbara Island, the smallest of the four. It is only 1% miles by 1 mile. There is a wider shallow-water area around this island, which area is rocky and heavily provided with kelp. Off the south- west end of the island the area is particularly foul with rocks and reefs. A rocky island — Sutil or Gull Island — lies 200 yards offshore, the chan- nel foul and shallow. The islet is 300 feet high and is quite conspicuous. There is no very safe anchorage.”
- * August 12, 1938
- * May 27, 28 1939
- * July 1, 1940
- * August 28, 1941
- * September 14, 15, 1941
- Santa Catalina Island fish collections:
- * July 19, 1924 (Velero III)
- * September 16, 1933
- * November 18, 1938 (Velero III)
- * January 28-29, 1939 (Velero III)
- * August 12, 18 1939 (Velero III)
- * December 10, 1939 (Velero III)
- * July 4-7, 1940 (Velero III)
- * August 8-9 & 19, 1940 (Velero III)
- * September 10, 29, 1940 (Velero III)
- * December 27, 1940 (Velero III)
- * May 3-4, 17-18, 1941 (Velero III)
- * June 12, 1941 (Velero III)
- * July 19, 1941 (Velero III)
- * August 2-4, 8-10, 1941 (Velero III)
- * September 3, 8, 13, 14, 26 & 29, 1941 (Velero III)
- * October 26, 1941 (Velero III)
- Santa Catalina Island fish collections:
Velero IV collections begin in October 1948
Fraser, C. Mclean General Account of the Scientific Work of the Velero III in the Eastern Pacific, 1931-1941. Part 2. Geographical and Biological Assoc., Los Angeles: USC Press, Allan Hancock Pacific Expeditions 1:2 (49-258), 1942
Dunkle, M. B. Plant Ecology of the Channel Islands of California in Allan Hancock Pacific Expeditions 13: 3, 1950.
In the News~
June 22, 1914 [LAT]: “New motorboat is real palace on the water. The Velero, belonging to Allan Hancock and built by the Banning shipyards in Mormon Island, is considered as being the most palatial motorboat ever built on the coast. Safety first on sea as well as land has been practiced by G. Allan Hancock in the building of his palatial motor boat Velero, which yesterday took its trial trip in the waters of San Pedro Harbor. Mr. Hancock has a boat which is without parallel on the coast, having put in a great deal of time aiding in the designing and building of the craft. The Velero is of the "torpedo boat" type of motor boat, and her two engines of 210 horsepower develop a speed of sixteen or seventeen knots. But the men who installed the huge engines which drive twin screws say that she can develop a speed nearer twenty knots. Of fifty tons' displacement, the Velero is seventy-seven feet over all, has a fourteen-foot beam, and five feet draft. The hull has a bent oak frame and Oregon pine planking. The deck and deck houses are finished in teak. Below decks the rooms are in white and gold, heavily enameled. The pilothouse and owner's room are abaft the raised deck forward. The pilothouse is fitted with all the latest in instruments of navigation, and is finished in mahogany. The owner's room adjoining it is finished in white enamel with gold trim, and a stairway from both rooms leads to the main cabin, which is also finished in white and gold. There are transoms on both sides of the cabin, and here repose the great variety of musical instruments. Forward of the cabin is a double stateroom, with lavatory and all modern fittings. Abaft the cabin is the galley, electric stove, refrigerator, and next the galley is the engine room, with one 150-horse power Eastern Standard engine, and one auxiliary Campbel engine developing sixty-horse power. In the after part of the boat are three spacious staterooms, and lavatories, divided by a hallway. The boat below decks is trimmed with mahogany. Mr. Hancock expects to do quite a good deal of cruising with the new boat and the big trip that he is bending his energies on at the present time is that to the Panama-Pacific Exposition at San Francisco in 1915.”
September 14, 1915 [TI/Avalon]: “Mr. Hancock Banning and party arrived on the yacht Velero Saturday night, leaving for the Isthmus Sunday morning.”
September 27, 1915 [LAT]: “Among the yachts flying the S.C.Y.C. burgee sailing around the racers today were...Velero, Capt. G. Allan Hancock and party.”
April 30, 1918 [TI/Avalon]: “The Velero, G. Allan Hancock’s handsome power yacht, was in Avalon waters Sunday. Mr. Hancock was entertaining a party of friends.”
August 1, 1919 [LAT]: “...John B. Elliott, in charge of harbor arrangements for the fleet entertainment, has secured G. Allan Hancock's magnificent 100-foot yacht Velero to convey the official welcoming committee from San Pedro to Admiral Hugh Rodman's flagship, New Mexico, when the fleet drops anchor...”
January 29, 1921 [LAT]: “With his yacht Velero loaded to the guards with food, water, gasoline and equipment enough for a two months' cruise, G. Allan Hancock leaves Los Angeles Harbor this afternoon for a 3000 or 4000-mile jaunt along Lower California, up the gulf to the mouth of the Colorado River and then down the coast of Mexico. For about twelve years Mr. Hancock has been an enthusiastic yachtsman, has studied navigation until he is an expert, and what he doesn't know about a boat generally isn't listed in any standard dictionaries. During all this time he has been figuring out and planning a long cruise, one that would take him out of the well-beaten paths and into some country that everyone in the world hadn't already eyed. And he believes that trip starting today fills the bill exactly. With Mr. Hancock will go Joe Carson of the Carson Ranch, and Capt. Thunell, a navigator of wide experience and who will stand watches with him in handling the yacht, and a crew of six men. Last night Velero was in ship-shape order and ready for the start on a moment's notice...”
April 6, 1921 [LAT]: “San Diego, April 5. — The trim little yacht Velero, the "little white yacht" as it was called by the natives of Lower California shores, in charge of Capt. George Allan Hancock of Los Angeles, owner and master, is at anchor in the harbor here today after a 3000-mile cruise down the coast of Lower California, up the gulf to Santa Rosalia and back. A trip was made to the mysterious island of Tiburon, on which dwells the cannibal Ceres tribe of Indians, to the copper mines of Santa Rosalia and the quaint settlements along the Lower California coast where civilization, according to Capt. Hancock, is at the point where it stood 100 years ago. Hunting and fishing and visits with residents of the country, by whom Capt. Hancock and his guests were cordially received, filled the two months of the cruise that started from Los Angeles Harbor January 29. The owner of the beautiful little yacht is proud of the feat of his craft, which covered adventure, pleasure and recreation. With Capt. Hancock were his guests, Capt. Ferdinand Thunell, an experienced navigator, Joe Carson and Albert Perry, First Officer Robert Irwin and Chief Engineer W. J. Pike and a crew of seven men take up the personnel of the yacht. Said Capt. Hancock tonight of the trip:
- "It was most interesting, for as someone has said, it is a country of which the world knows as little as the North or South Pole. We cruised down the coast of Lower California to the charming little city of La Paz, and then down around and up the inside of the gulf 400 miles. We were all curious to stop at the much-talked-of island of Tiburon, on which dwell cannibal Indians. But although we went on the island armed to the teeth, and looked for the warlike natives, not one showed up to greet or eat us. They have a habit of hiding behind bushes and taking their visitors or victims by surprise, hence our precaution as we landed on the island. But though we saw traces of their habitation, crude little grass huts and other primitive evidences of their occupation of the country, we failed to make the acquaintance of any of the Tiburon people. On account of being unable to go farther up with our yacht, we could visit only one end of the island and the inhabitants must have been on the northern end.”
1935: Expedition to bring two Northern Elephant Seals from Guadalupe Island, Mexico to the San Diego Zoo.
- “A Trip to Guadalupe. A long hoped for voyage of discovery was carried out during the last part of September by the Zoological Society of San Diego. Commander Bowdey of the 11th Naval District, who has contributed much valuable service to our work during the three years that he has been stationed in San Diego, succeeded in interesting Captain Allan Hancock of Los Angeles in the investigation that the society had been hoping to make at the Guadalupe Island. The main object of the trip was to attempt to locate the reported hiding place of the Guadalupe Fur Seal, (Arctocephalus townsendii), which had made its appearance again in 1927 after nearly forty years of oblivion.
- The yacht Velero II, belonging to Captain Hancock is admirably fitted for such a purpose, for Captain Hancock is himself a sportsman, and a naturalist as well as a seaman. He is well known in scientific circles as the man who made the Brea pits in Los Angeles possible and who has by protecting and setting aside this valuable scientific bonanza contributed greatly to historic knowledge of zoology. He was therefore interested personally in helping to establish facts in connection with this, the most interesting of sea mammals.
- The Zoological Society has long been convinced that if there were any considerable number of they had a hiding place which would well be nigh impossible to locate except through chance or by the assistance of someone who had previous knowledge of the location. Upon reaching the island repeated trips up and down the coast where the old seal herds used to roam were made and all possible sites of the hiding place carefully studies. After landing several times and investigating carefully the possible chances for hidden caves, Commander Bowdey was confident that such a cave as we were seeking could be in the spot selected by the informer. It is perfectly concealed, as Doctor Townsend, who had searched the same coast, had predicted it would be, and is located near enough to their old haunts to be a very plausible location. Many pictures were taken by those aboard the ship and we feel that with this evidence and the careful marking of a chart of the island by the commander that the spot will easily be determined at any time.
- Neither the persons familiar with the habits of the seal nor those responsible for the expedition had any real hopes of seeing specimens of the seal at the island during the month of September. Although very little is actually known of the habits of the former numerous herds, records show that no skins were brought in later than September first or before the first of June, but there is no knowledge of the migratory habits of the animal further than the deductions to be made from these records.
- After locating the fur seal caves a cruise around the island for further study was made to investigate the condition of the Elephant Seal and to verify reports of white seals on one of the outer islands. Lying just south of the main island this series of smaller volcanic peaks present a forbidding appearance. Upon first approach they would seem to be entirely bare of plant or animal life, but closer views show that in every crevice of the cliffs in which soil could form or collect, some plant has taken root. Sea birds have made resting places and probably nesting places on some of the sheltered crevices or slopes, and on a steep sloping shelf running straight from the water's edge on the southwest cliff of the southern islet, a group of sea lions had established themselves. Among them were ten or more pure white seal, while scattered among the regularly colored sea lions were as many more light colored or spotted ones.
- These white seal were indeed an exciting vision, and to the mind of every member of the expedition came the story Rudyard Kipling wrote of the white seal of Pribiloff. To protect themselves from harm these animals had used their instinctive wisdom for nothing could approach very close to them except by sea; at the first warning most of them slid off into water hundreds of fathoms deep and rough enough to insure them comparative safety from everything except bullets. There is no possible landing place on the island so approach from that angle is no menace. While Captain Hancock went as close to the cliff as it was possible the light was too poor to make long distance pictures of any value, so although both still and motion pictures were taken, the results were entirely negative. This is one of the things which is calling us back to the island; the hope of getting at least distinct pictures of these beautiful creatures.
- There is no doubt of the writer that these are albino sea lion and not merely some of which have become bleached by the sun's rays. All of the seal on the cliff were not white, nor even light. Those that were white were in marked contrast to the others, even the buff colored ones which were scattered indiscriminately among them. When these light seal went into the water they looked almost brown so long as they were wet; not so the white ones. They were just as snowy in the water as when we saw them apparently perfectly dry upon the rocks. They have been reported there for several years always among the natural colored ones, and the ledge is not exposed to the sun's rays for very long periods because of the curve in the contour of the island which shelters its mornings and evenings. Neither would they be more exposed than on the ordinary rookeries. While there were no white seal pups in evidence, it is a logical conclusion that the white seal are albino sea lions which are to a certain extent breeding true. While it could not be stated as a positive fact, one of the seal lying close to the water's edge had every appearance of the fur seal which we were searching for; the thick round body and the sharp nose looked very like the two specimens formerly on exhibit in the garden. One maverick fur seal in a herd of sea lions would not be impossible.
- The elephant seal beach was reached in the early morning. If it had not been for Commander Bowdey this would have been passed by without recognition. That the beach was thickly populated with its giant inhabitants was evident from the yacht seen with the naked eye. Through the powerful glasses several partial counts were made and Commander Bowdey was convinced that no less than five hundred elephants were on the beach, with a much greater percentage of adult males than he had ever seen before. Doctor McLeish was not satisfied to view them from the distance, and taking a skiff with first mate Johnson rowed to the last line of breakers. He spent an hour or more in close observation and counted many of the larger groups. He also counted many in the breakers that could not be seen from the yacht. The Doctor said that five hundred was a most conservative estimate. This would indicate that the herd of immense pinnipeds is steadily increasing and the increase in adult bulls leads to the conclusion that at the time of the society's expedition a year ago the big fellows were away on a fall hunting trip or whatever mysterious business calls the sea mammals on their annual pilgrimage.
- The Zoological Society is greatly indebted to Captain Hancock not only for the generous use of his yacht but for the real interest he showed in the work and the personal effort he made to make every part of the trip a success. The real result of the work will not be entirely known until the society makes a trip in the late spring after fur seals and possibly white ones. Then the value of the information which we have gathered will be proven and perhaps some more added to the meager facts which have so long been all that has been actually known of one of the most valuable and rarest zoological specimens in the world, the Guadalupe Fur Seal. We certainly hope that the sequel to this expedition will make Captain Hancock feel repaid for the expense and trouble to which he has been out.
- Those making the trip beside Captain Hancock and Commander Bowdey were Doctor McLeish, Mr. Chapman, Mr. Mullen and Mrs. Fellows of Los Angeles, Señor Lobato of the Mexican Fish and Game Commission, and Mrs. Benchley of the Zoological Society.” [San Diego ZooNooz 5(5):5-7, 1930]
August 25, 1932 [LAT]: “San Diego. The elaborately fitted 195-foot yacht Velero III, owned by G. Allan Hancock, wealthy Los Angeles sportsman, left here today on an elephant seal hunt down the coast of Lower California to Guadalupe Island. Hancock has been granted permission by the Mexican government to bring two of the gigantic mammals to the United States to replace the pair, which died some time ago at the San Diego Zoo. Hancock is accompanied on the expedition, which will last about ten days, by Dr. Harry Wegeforth, director of the San Diego Zoological Society, and Dr. John Garth, entomologist from the University of Southern California.”
September 11, 1933 [SDET]: “Sailed Sunday, September 10. Velero III, Hancock, 8 a.m. for San Clemente Island; Capt. G. A. Hancock.”
December 11, 1939 [SBNP]: “…Returning aboard the U.S.C. Allan Hancock exploration cruiser Velero III, two groups of research experts put in the Los Angeles museum cataloging room their finds of the first stage of a five-year biological survey of San Clemente Island, which the U.S. Navy now uses as a secret training base. From the island itself, Dr. Arthur Woodward, archaeologist, brought votive images in stone, knives, hammers, digging tools, shellfish hooks and bowls, basketry and mission-made pottery…”
April 30, 1940 [Oakland Tribune]: “Island off L.A. vanishing but animals increase. Los Angeles, April 30. Tiny San Nicholas [sic] Island, Western-most of the Channel Islands, 65 miles off Los Angeles Harbor, is fast disappearing but its wild life is on the increase. Scientists of the Los Angeles COunty Museum Biological Survey have returned from three weeks of exploration with 200 specimens of vertebrates, mostly endemic to the island, some of which had not been reported before. Jack Von Bloeker, mammalogist said "There must be 3000 foxes on the island, and they eat everything from shellfish to cactus apples. They are vicious fighter." Von Bloeker added that the foxes, isolated probably since Pleistocene times, have grown much longer and have bushier tails than foxes of other Channel Islands. Erosion by wind wind and rain is leveling the island, the scientist said. The only resident on the island is Denver Spencer, who operates the United States naval station. The exploration cruiser, Velero III, brought Mrs. Spencer for a vacation at San Diego.”
November 8, 1941: “The first contingent of the Museum party left Terminal Island at 8:00 A.M. November 8, 1941, sailing on the Velero III, as guests of Captain Allan Hancock. The museum group consisted of Kenneth Stager, mammalogist and ornithologist; Mrs. Stager, as field assistant to her husband, and camp cook; King A. Richey, paleontologist; Harry Fletcher and John C. Stock, assistant paleontologists, and the writer [John A. Comstock], as coordinator. Anchorage was made in Becher’s Bay just before dusk, in a high wind. Landing dunnage and camp supplies proved difficult, but was finally completed without mishap. Mr. N. R. Vail furnished a tractor and trailer to move the equipment and supplies from the pier to a cabin which was generously placed at the disposal of the Survey party. Mr. Vail and the ranch foreman, Mr. George Haise, were very helpful in organizing facilities for the convenience and comfort of our group…” [LACM Expedition #13.] Comstock, John A. Brief notes on the expeditions conducted between March 16, 1940 and December 14, 1941 in Contributions from the Los Angeles Museum Channel Islands Biological Survey. Bulletin of the So. Cal. Acad. Sciences XLV, May-August, 1946, Part 2.
August 17, 1949 [?]: “Pacific reveals amazing world. (This is an interview via radio telephone with Dr. Otis Barton, who yesterday dropped 4500 feet into the Pacific Ocean in his Benthoscope for a new world record.) By Dr. Otis Barton. Aboard the Velero IV off Santa Cruz Island, (UP)— I didn't have a bad time on my benthoscope dive. I suffered from cold, and the glowing organisms rocking up and down outside in the dark made me dizzy for a time. But I didn't suffer from lack of oxygen as I did Monday. The phosphorescent animals were most numerous about 2000 or 2500 feet. I would describe them as like fireflys on a midsummer's night. I could not identify all of them, but many of them were jellyfish. I saw some lanternfishes, I'm sure. I made about 25 little sketches of arrangements of lights I saw. Some of the lights were so bright they reflected inside the benthoscope. It was an amazing world. While the lights were on, I could see as far as 20 or 30 feet. But after the lights failed, the glow from the organisms themselves was not visible over six or 10 feet in the inky darkness. I think the weirdest sight was some elongated jellyfish, pointed at both ends, with longitudinal lines of light. I also saw a Venus girdle with bright gold spots. But a necklace of double pearls I saw in Bermuda 19 years ago still is the most beautiful sight I have seen under the sea. I think, perhaps, I saw some unknown animals. I don't think the nets would be able to bring them up. When I reached 4500 feet I had to decide whether to go farther. I was miserably cold, and the swinging of the ball as the barge rocked made me slightly seasick. But the main factor in deciding to come back up was my feeling that I had done my best at describing the organisms I could see...”