San Francisco Maritime: Historic Ships and the Golden Gate

Article excerpt

Down to the sea in ships, indeed. And what better place to view them than the splendid California setting of scenic San Francisco Bay.

A schooner, a square-rigger, two steam-powered tugboats, a scow schooner and a paddlewheel ferry boat grace Hyde Street Pier at the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park. Here, at the west end of the famous Fisherman's Wharf, visitors receive a dazzling array of programs about celestial navigation, whaling and steam propulsion--as well as sailing jaunts around San Francisco Bay. Listen to the "Seamen's Fiddle Music" at the Festival of the Sea, September 13-14.

A stroll down Hyde Street Pier turns back the clock to the days when sheets of sturdy canvas carried men around the world, promises superintendent Bill Thomas. National Park Service riggers splice line and wire high up in the masts of the 1886 Balcutha. Park shipwrights sheathe the decks of the 1890 auto/passenger ferry Eureka with cedar. Staff boatbuilders answer questions while they restore classic wooden craft (like feluccas and montereys). And, all around, park rangers lead visitors through sail-raises, chantey-sings and hands-on sailor's crafts.

Three of the National Historic Landmark vessels berthed at the pier are open for boarding: the Balcutha, the 1895 schooner CA. Thayer, and the Eureka. Explore the cramped holds, furnished cabins and interpreted lower decks, but don't miss the sights topside. Stand behind Balcutha's wheel with Sausalito at your back, the Golden Gate Bridge on your right, the San Francisco skyline before you, and a fresh sea breeze in your hair. …