Delta columnist has doubts about our big ships

The ships Aurora, left, Chaleur, center, and Fir are moored near the former Herman and Helens Marina at the west end of Eight Mile Road on Empire Tract in Stockton. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD

Owners of the large vessels docked at closed-down Herman and Helen’s Marina outside Stockton will assure you they are making steady progress restoring their boats. Columnist Pat Carson of Bay & Delta yachtsman has doubts:

“Looking at the Aurora, the Fir, and the other ships I am sorry but I don’t see any signs of progress,”  other than nominal improvements, “Carson writes.

“I remember speaking with someone from the Aurora 7 or 8 years ago when she was tied to the end of San Francisco Pier 38,” Carson continues. “As I recall, the plan for restoration was not much more than a framework with insufficient funding to do little more than keeping her afloat, let alone any sort of restoration.

“It was just a few years later that the Port of San Francisco evicted the Aurora and she arrived in the delta where paying rent is optional and apparently in water, ship work is unregulated.

“The hull of the Aurora is visibly wasted at the starboard quarter waterline with no visible attempt of repair. The USCGC Fir is half painted but in a similar state as the Aurora. It is evident that someone is doing some work on the vessels which begs the question, is Little Connection Slough a boatyard suitable for ship repair?

“Every boatyard in the Bay and Delta goes to great lengths to contain, scrub, and properly dispose of all waste material. All sanding dust that gets past the vacuum sanders is washed from the yard surface into containment areas and hauled off. Every boatyard is regularly inspected so that they do not pollute our water. Is the impromptu shipyard on Little Connection Slough doing the same?”

Read the whole thing here.

The Aurora.

Being outside the jursidiction of the State Lands Commission, Herman and Helen’s is woefully under-regulated. The falling-apart marina itself is a welter of litigation. Some vessel owners, posing as restorationists, may be stripping their vessels of metals illegally for quick recycling dough, as Carson worries. Or, at best, doing environmentally hazardous repairs.

The County of San Joaquin, afraid some owners may walk away, leaving the county with astronomical ship-disposal costs, is suing everybody and their uncle.

In my last piece on this I tried in fairness to make a distinction between the Aurora and other vessels. But owner Chris Willson took umbrage anyway and indignantly told me he’ll never speak to me again — after refusing to tell me his occupation or source of income.

Willson may be sincere. But then if the Aurora has been there for five years and Carson can’t see progress then it’s right to be skeptical. What Willson regards as progress may be a drop in the bucket compared to the multimilion-dollar restoration the Aurora needs.

One can root for these boats to be restored to a new life on the Delta and be skeptical, by the way.

Some county employee recently told the Board of Supervisors negotiations between the D.A., County Counsel and all the Herman and Helen’s parties are nearing a resolution. I inquired. The county would say only that negotiations are ongoing.

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    Michael Fitzgerald

    Mike Fitzgerald is The Record’s award-winning metro columnist. His column runs in the paper three times a week. Born in San Francisco, he was raised in Stockton. His column covers diverse beats including, sometimes, the offbeat. Read Full
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