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29th August 2010

A Maritime Day on Hyde Street Pier

    Today was hopefully my last trip to the launderette over here. I didn't encounter any strange characters as I did during my first trip to a San Franciscan laundry during my early visit in May.
    Once that was out of the way, I struck out for a maritime day. My first port of call was the Maritime Museum. Sadly, it was being refurbished, and most of the exhibits were in storage. However, a few ship models were on display, as well as some aesthetically pleasing sea life murals around the walls. If I returned in two years time the museum would be back to normal. I was fascinated by the fact that the basement of the building contained a fully equipped, free gym for the over 60s.
    I strolled in the sun and bitingly cold wind up to the water's edge of the Aquarium Park Lagoon. On the ocean side of me lay Fort Mason, a huge departure facility for American troops, last used in earnest during World War II. On the bay side lay Hyde Street Pier, part of San Francisco's Maritime National Historic Park. In front of me, members of the swimming club were plying their way across the lagoon in what must have been freezing waters.
Highway 101 on Hyde Street Pier
    My objective was to visit Hyde Street Pier. The pier was built in 1922 for car ferries between San Francisco and Sausalito. The ferry route was part of highway 101 until the Golden Gate Bridge opened in 1937.
Eppleton Hall
    Today the pier and a number of historic vessels moored here were open to visitors. Five vessels: Alma, Balclutha, Eureka, Hercules, and C.A.Thayer, were designated National Historic Landmarks. The pier also contained a variety of maritime structures and exhibits.
    The C.A.Thayer, a three-masted schooner had her masts removed and her decks were stripped clear as part of a refurbishment exercise. Photographs showed her to be an elegant ship.
    Close by lay Eppleton Hall, a sturdy little 1914 100.5' steel tugboat from South Shields where she towed coal barges (colliers) on the River Wear. The vessel crossed the Atlantic under her own power in 1969, an epic six month journey through the Panama Canal. She was a steam-powered sidewheeler (a paddle wheel on each side of the ship), also called grasshopper engines. A strong feature of this vessel was that her two paddles could operate independently, thus making her very maneuverable. A working crew consisted of a skipper, mate, engineer, fireman and an apprentice.
    Balclutha was a fascinating ship. This 256' three-masted, steel-hulled, square-rigged ship was built on the Clyde in 1886 to haul Californian wheat to Europe as well as various other cargos. The 26 strong crew lived on board for months at a time during the treacherous voyage around Cape Horn. It returned to the US laden with coal from Wales, jute for sacking, and sometimes glass and cement from Belgium (although glass and cement were manufactured in the eastern states, it was cheaper to transport from Europe than ship overland).
Balclutha in Profile
    When the second gold rush (the "wheat gold rush") declined , it went on to work for the Alaska Packers Association, supplying the Alaskan salmon fisheries during the late 1800s and early 1900s with men and supplies, and bringing back canned salmon. As was tradition with that company, she was renamed the Star of Alaska, a sister ship to the Star of India we visited in San Diego. In fact these were the only two 'Star' ships remaining from the original fleet. During those salmon packing days, the bulk labour for the fish processing and canning industries was provided by Chinese - the China Gang. Like the rest of the park's fleet, Balclutha survived because it kept working after other vessels of its class were scuttled.
    Eureka, a side-wheel 299.5' ferry, was built in 1890 as Ukiah, and refitted in 1922 as Eureka. It was originally built to ferry trains across the bay, and was rebuilt in 1922 to serve passengers and cars. It was a very stylish craft. For me the piece de resistance was the walking beam engine that sat in the middle of the vessel. It was such a colossal engine that the actual beam was visible above the top deck. For good measure, the car deck had been loaded with vintage cars.
    Hercules was a 139' steam-powered tug built in 1907. The 151-foot ship, of riveted steel construction, still contained her original triple expansion steam engine. This workhorse had been used to tow large ships out to sea, push railroad car barges across the bay, tow huge lock structures to build the Panama Canal, and tow gigantic log rafts from the Columbia River.
San Francisco Bay Ark
    The San Francisco Bay Ark was a wooden houseboat, 44 feet long, 25 feet wide, with a rounded, barge-like bottom and a two-foot draft. The builder and date were unknown, but it was probably constructed between 1890 and 1900. This ark was typical of the ark common around the turn of the last century in the San Francisco Bay and was mostly berthed in a cove near Belvedere, CA.
    This little houseboat, referred to locally as an ark, was one of several dozen boats moored out as summer hideaways for San Francisco families in Belvedere Lagoon, near Tiburon in Marin County during the early 1900s. Reputedly built for the McGinnis family sometime prior to 1900, this ark was hauled ashore about 1923 and passed through several hands before being donated to the park in 1969. Summer aboard the arks was an idyllic time. The boats were brightly painted, and glowed at night with colorful Japanese lanterns. Evenings were spent visiting between boats in neatly finished Whitehall rowboats.
    For good measure I also visited the visitor centre for the park. I could spend days going around such museums examining all the minutiae of the decking and rigging. To walk around the sister ship to the Star of India was the icing on the cake; that made my day.
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Uploaded from Francisco Bay Inn, 1501 Lombard Street, San Francisco CA on 31/08/10 at 20:55

Last updated 1.9.2010