Wooden Boats and Sea Chanteys on San Francisco Bay

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As the stately wooden vessels sail out for the annual Master Mariners Regatta, it's easy to imagine San Francisco Bay in its seafaring prime, when the luffing of unfurling sails mixed with the howl of the westerlies and the song of chanteymen on the docks.

The regatta is one of several events this month inspired by National Maritime Day (May 22) to celebrate our rich maritime history. In the Bay Area, you can enjoy lfeboat races, a cruise on a cargo ship, and festivals at three ports.

May 12, Aquatic Park. You can watch lifeboat races run between Alcatraz and the park. Rowing one of these broad-beamed, 26-foot crafts is no easy task; unloaded, it can weigh a ton. A dozen teams of 10 men per boat will compete in five heats from 9 to noon on the 1-mile course. You'll find good views from the Municipal Pier at Aquatic Park.

May 19, Port of Oakland. Maritime Day will run from 10 to 4. Massive cargo-loading equipment will be on view, and you'll be able to board a big cargo ship. Amtrak's newest passenger cars will be open to visitors on a pier siding.

From 11 to 2, you can watch lifeboat races along the Oakland Estuary; 10 boats will run a 1-mile course. Free 1 1/4-hour harbor tours will depart at 9:45, 11:15, 12:45, and 2:15 from the Oakland Port Tour pier next to the Sea Wolf Restaurant in Jack London Square. To reach the square and the heart of activities, take State Highway 17 to the Broadway exit and follow signs; park in the lot (fee) or free on side streets.

May 19 and 20, Fort Mason. The lovingly restored Jeremiah O'Brien, the last unaltered Liberty Ship from World War II, will sail once again this weekend. Day-long voyages will leave Pier 3 at 9 A.M. each day, sailing under the Golden Gate and Oakland Bay bridges. Cost of $60 includes lunch; funds help ship maintainance. For more information, call (415) 441-3101.

May 19 and 20, Hyde Street Pier. The Festival of the Sea is the month's largest celebration, held at the National Maritime Museum and Hyde Street Pier in San Francisco. On the pier you can watch sailmaking, dugout canoe carving, and rope work, and listen to poetry and music. All five historic ships moored here will be open four tours.

Activities continue from 10:30 to 6 each day (from 11 on Sunday) at Hyde and Jefferson streets. …