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Connecting to maritime history through refurbished vessels in San Francisco

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Posted: Saturday, March 20, 2010 12:00 am

Who: Lap and Yee Wong.

The trip: A trip to museum ships.

The highlight: There is a real collection of 19th century refurbished vessels moored at San Francisco Hyde Street Pier, all of which are open to the public. But once you spend some time on the decks, and explore the passageways in these ships, it is easy to make a mental trip back in time.

The colorful seafaring past evokes the glory days of the 156-foot C.A. Thayer of 1895, from Fairhaven. It is a three-mast schooner, which carried Redwood lumber down the coast to San Francisco. Some even ventured offshore to Hawaii and Fiji. From 1925, the vessel made trips to the Bering Sea, bringing salmon to the Bay Area. In 1942, the army removed her masts and used Thayer as an ammunition barge in British Columbia. In 1950, she entered the historic book as the last commercial sailing vessel to operate on the West Coast. The C.A. Thayer was designated a national historic landmark in 1984.


The 300-foot Eureka, a double-ended side-wheel paddle steamboat, was built in 1890 from Tiburon, and serving as a combination of railroad and passenger ferry. Thirty years later, she was converted into an auto and passenger ferryboat sailing between San Francisco and Sausalito. During the war years, she joined other bay ferries in the work of transporting troops. Her ferry duty ended in 1957. The Eureka was declared to be a national historic landmark.


Knot tying, sail-raising and sea chantey singing on the Balclutha, a 301-foot, three-mast square rigger from Scotland, took her maiden voyage to San Francisco in 1886. The steel-hulled merchant ship brought diverse cargoes from Europe to various ports in the Pacific. She rounded Cape Horn 17 times. During 1903-1930, the ship made yearly voyages between San Francisco and Alaska. Renamed Star of Alaska, she sailed for the Al Packer Association, carried men and supplies to the canneries and brought packed salmon. After playing a role in the 1934 movie, "Mutiny on Bounty," starring Clark Gable, a promoter put her in a fake pirate ship to tour the West Coast. Her sailing career ended in 1954. And yet, the Balclutha was designed a national historic landmark.

S.S. Jeremiah

Around the corner on Pier 45, the 1943 S.S. Jeremiah O'Brien made her perilous roundtrip wartime crossing of the Atlantic that stormed Normandy on the D-Day in 1944. The 441-foot vessel patrolled Pacific and Indian Ocean. The Liberty ship was taken in 1979 to be restored. In 1994, she navigated in the 50th anniversary celebration of D-Day. Footage of the ship's engine was used in the 1977 film "Titanic" to depict the ill-fated ship's engine. The S.S. Jeremiah O'Brian is now a national historic landmark.

USS Pampanito

The long range 311-foot submarine USS Pampanito was launched on July 1943. She sank six Japanese warships and damanged four others in World War II. Pampanito served as Naval Reserve Training ship through 1971. In 1996, she left her berth to star in the feature film "Down Periscope," staring Kelsey Grammar. The audio tour painted the picture of the hardship 80 sailors endured during their 75 days dealing with constant bending and squeezing through tight spaces, narrow steps, small living quarters, tiny kitchen and hot engine rooms. Without question, the Pampanito is a great reminder of the sacrifices made by the brave men of a bygone era for our freedom. In 1896, the USS Pampanito became a U.S. national historic landmark.

USS Constitution

The 1797 wooden-hulled USS Constitution engaged with the War of 1812 with HMS Guerriere. The British vessel's cannon balls bounced off Constitution's thick oak hull as if it were iron, and earned her a nickname Old Ironsides. In her active (years), she captured 20 vessels and defeated 42 battles. The 44-gun three mast-frigate, looming over the Charlestown Navy Yard berth, is a loved symbol of Boston. The 204-foot gorgeous black hull is supposedly the oldest commissioned floating warship in the world.

In 1997, when the Constitution celebrated her 200th birthday, she sailed proudly into Massachusetts Bay, wit flags flying and fired a cannon in recognition of high salute for Navy's Blue Angels. In fact, the vessel is not only a priceless repository of history; it is an experience that engages every vistor's senses. The heavy cannonades on the quarterdeck befit our favorite snapshot target. The USS Constitution is listed on the national landmark list.

Aboard on a 140-foot vessel with two square-rigged masts, replica 19th century tall ship Brig Unicorn, plied out from Rodney Bay marina to experience the Caribbean adventure. Contemplate the St. Lucia's leeward coastline, cherish the music and be mesmerized the elevation of the ship while sailing toward the historic Pigeon Island. The Unicorn fired the cannon onto the fort until the pirates surrendered by raising a white flag during the movh pirates show. It really titallated everyone's spirits. Once ashore, join the treasure hunt and explore the surrounding ambience. In amongst the entire nice scene around the ship, the one taken with three (ersatz) pirates excelled others. Oh, yeah, Brig Unicorn was used in the filming of all three "Pirates of the Caribbean" movies and in the series "Roots," as the slave ship in the beginning.

Readers who submit snapshots published in the Lodi Living section receive a free Lodi News-Sentinel tote bag. Entries should include a quick description of your vacation, a snapshot, your name, address and phone number. Snapshots run in the order they are received. Snapshots may be dropped off at the Lodi News-Sentinel during regular business hours or sent to Lodi Living, Snapshots, 125 N. Church St., Lodi, CA 95240.



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