On April 20th 1774, near Carmel, California, Juan Bautista de Anza wrote in his diary about finding the mast of a ship of unknown origin (his compatriot Garcés did not record it). Here is his complete diary entry and the translation given by Web de Anza:

Dia 20 Miercoles. Pasé a la Mision de San Carmelo, distante del Presidio poco mas de legua tanto por ver este nuevo establecimiento, y ultimo de la California septentrional; como por pagar la visita, que ayer me hizo al Reverendo Padre Superior de los Misioneros de ellos. Pocos dias antes de mi arrivo aqui, se varo en la Playa que hai inmediatamente un Palo de Barco, no conocida su construccion por los nuestros, que aqui abitan ni su madera, el qual se persuaden se quebró al segundo tercio; este todo pasado con clavos mui fuertes de una Cabeza larga, y dos puntas, que no pasan a remache, cuio fierro nada se ha enmojecido, ni las puntas que quedarón, donde se quebró estan embotadas, por cuias dos ultimas circunstancias infieren los tales quales Peritos, que hai aqui en el asunto de Embarcasiones, que no ha mucho tiempo se desgracio la de adonde era esta Pieza, que en primera ocasion que se proporcione, para el Puerto de San Blas se conducira para que sea exactamente examinada.

Wednesday, April 20. I went to the mission of San (Carlos del) Carmelo, distance from the presidio a little more than a league, both to see this new establishment, the last in northern California, and to return the visit made me yesterday by the reverend father superior of its missionaries. A few days before my arrival here the mast of a ship was stranded on the nearby beach, whose construction and the wood of which it is made are unknown to those of our people who live here, but they believe it was broken two-thirds off. It is entirely run through with very strong nails with long heads, and with two points which do not pass through to be clinched. Their iron has not rusted at all nor are the points blunt which projected where it was broken. From these last two circumstances the few persons who are experienced in the matter of vessels infer that it cannot be very long ago that the vessel from which this mast came was wrecked. At the first opportunity that offers it will be taken to the port of San Blas in order that it may be carefully examined.

This anecdote from California history describes a mysterious piece of sea debris, a mast with unusual double-pointed nails. Since numerous Japanese sengokubune ships that lost their rudders in storms drifted to North America (see The Shogun's Reluctant Ambassadors by Katherine Plummer), it seems possibly Japanese, but not being able to confirm that directly I am broadening the question to narrow in on the interesting nails.

The most salient part of his description is the fact that the nails, of good iron, were two-pointed and did not penetrate to be clinched. One dictionary calls a two-pointed nail a mordant.

Since clinching is a technical term, here is an illustration of the technique, bending protruding nail tips back into the wood:

Clinching a nail into wood

Although this one is described as clinching, here is an illustration of a two-pointed nail that spreads out:

Nails and tool for clinching

Does Anza's description of the two-pointed nails of excellent iron point to Japanese or Boston or Baltic construction? Who was using two-pointed, non-clinched nails for shipbuilding in the mid-1700s?

  • 1
    shipwreckasia.org/wp-content/uploads/… might be helpful (search for iron staple, or simply for nail). Jul 29, 2019 at 4:44
  • Could you give me a picture how the "two pointed nails" look like? I have a picture of the Japanese indigenous and traditional nail. It has not "two point" at all.
    – user12387
    Apr 30, 2020 at 2:53
  • @Kentaro unfortunately the only evidence at hand is Anza's journal. If he did send that piece of wood back to San Blas, I haven't read about it anywhere else. Apr 30, 2020 at 3:26
  • @AaronBrick What does this line mean? "It is entirely run through with very strong nails with long heads, and with two points which do not pass through to be clinched. "
    – user12387
    Apr 30, 2020 at 15:54
  • @Kentaro Clinching seems to be this approach to nailing: diy-wood-boat.com/images/Clenching.jpg Apr 30, 2020 at 16:15

1 Answer 1


It was very common for Japanese ships to wash up in America. They were salvaged for ore. See Wikipedia on Native American iron working.

That account is unverifiable, but completely plausible.

  • I think yours would be "Yes". +1. At that time nobody important in Edo shogunate didn't care who disappeared far off the island of its own.
    – user12387
    Jul 30, 2019 at 10:51
  • We know that Japanese wrecks reached America. The question to resolve is whether this artifact came from one. Apr 30, 2020 at 15:48

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