Warships, tall ships and historic watercraft of the Bay Area: Part II

The 301' Balclutha, a three-masted, square-rigged schooner dating to the 1880s, and the Eppleton Hall, a steam tug boat, are just two of the many historic ships anchored at the Hyde Street Pier!

The Hyde Street Cable Car turnaround is just a block up the street from the Hyde Street Pier. Here cable cars are turned on a hand-powered turntable and loaded for the trip back up Hyde Street!
USS Pamponito, a World War II fleet submarine, sank six Japaneses ships and damaged four others; the sub and the Jeremiah O’Brien are anchored for tours at Pier 45 in Fisherman’s Wharf.
The SS Jeremiah O’Brien is one of only two surviving Liberty Ships of the 2,710 built in World War II to supply Allied troops with “beans, bullets and black oil”; Rosie the Riveter and many American shipyard workers could construct one of these ships in 60 days!
The Ferry Building opened at intersection of Market and The Embarcadeo in 1898, and unitl the Bay Bridge and Golden Gate Bridge opened in the 1930s, was the world’s second busiest transit center!
The Ferry Building’s 600′ vaulted nave is home to specialty shops and all manner of restaurants!

The Hyde Street Pier, Fisherman’s Wharf and the Ferry Building; three of the best places in San Francisco to see big ships up close and personal.  You’ve probably been to the first two,  but have you been to the Ferry Building since its renovation 11 years ago?  Well, locals know it for great food, good drinks, a wonderful farmers market and stunning maritime scenery right off the ferry docks. 

Hence, let’s again set sail for more deep-water adventure.  We’ll start in the morning to beat the biggest crowds on San Francisco’s north Embarcadero, where the Hyde Street Pier and Fisherman’s Wharf are side-by-side.  Find an all day parking lot for “early-in rates”, you can use the Embarcadero historic trolley to cruise the waterfront, all the way to the Ferry Building or even to AT&T Park.  Cycling is another option, with well-marked bike lanes all along the waterfront.

Until the completion of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge and the Golden Gate Bridge, in 1936 and 1937, respectively, the Hyde Street Pier was the principal ferry departure point for vehicle and passenger traffic to Sausalito and Berkeley, and were part of US Hwy. 101 and Hwy. 40.  The Ferry Building linked San Francisco to Oakland, Alameda, Vallejo other other destinations.  The ferries ran regularly as part of the Golden Gate Ferrys, a part of the Southern Pacific Railroad.

For historic ships, the Hyde Street Pier can’t be beat in California. It’s home to  the 1886 square-rigger Balclutha, 1914 paddlewheel tug Eppleton Hall, 1890 steam ferry Eureka, 1895 schooner C. A. Thayer, 1891 scow schooner Alma, 1907 steam tug Hercules, 1890 San Francisco Bay Ark, 1915 steam schooner Wapama and many smaller watercraft.  A $5 fee covers a seven-day pass to enter the vessels, with supervised kids under 16 free.

Most noticed due to her three masts and size is the 301’ Balclutha, a three-masted square-rigged schooner launched in 1886 by a shipyard in Scotland, which carried a crew of 26 men to handle her 25 sails.  This stately ship carried coal around Cape Horn (tip of South America) from Wales and Australia to San Francisco to fuel American railroads and steamships, later serving as a part of the Pacific lumber trade, as a salmon packet and appeared in the Clark Gable movie Mutiny on the Bounty.

Other ships of unique interest are the Eppleton Hall, a 100’ steel tug built in 1914 in England, featuring two side paddle-wheels, each powered by a steam engine.  This ship was designed to move ocean-going coal ships on the River Tyne, with the two engines/paddlewheels allowing for high-maneuverability. 

You also can’t miss the 299’ steam-powered ferry the Eureka, launched in 1890 and designed to carry 2,300 passengers and 120 autos.  Built identically on both ends, the design saved precious time as the ship did not need to turn-around while making its back and forth trips.  The 1891 scow schooner Alma, with flat bottom and modest draft, delivered all types of goods throughout the Bay and Delta long before roads, bridges and trucks took prime position (the Alma hosts afternoon sails with a Ranger on selected summer afternoons).

Hyde Street Pier is part of the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park, so take the time to prowl through the many exhibits in the museum-proper, just a block up the hill from the pier.  On your way to the museum, you’ll pass by the Hyde Street Cable Car turntable, where the historic cars are turned by hand for their return up Hyde Street.

Just two blocks east is Fisherman’s Whart, where the two World War II ships are tied up at Pier 45 for public tours and viewing.  The USS Pampanito is a World War II fleet submarine, which served on war patrol from March, 1944 until April, 1945.  It sank six Japanese ships, damaged four others and rescued 73 Allied prisoners of war.  While the submarine force was credited with sinking 55% of Japanese ships in the war, 23% of the submarine force was lost, numbering 52 ships and 3,500 fighting men.

Further down the pier is the SS Jeremiah O’Brien, one of only two remaining of 2,710 “Liberty Ships” constructed during the war.  These ships were built of identical parts by “Rosie the Riveter” in plants across the US.  The ship was our answer to Hitler’s U-boats, built to haul “beans, bullets and black oil” to our troops around the world – faster than Germany could sink them.  Both the Pamponito and Jeremiah O’Brien charge fees to enter the ships (see web sites below for detail).

While at Fisherman’s Wharf, take time to enjoy the Wharf area directly between the Hyde Street Pier and the two warships.  It’s more “old school” than newer shops that have proliferated to the south and east; you will also be able to see the commercial and sport-fishing fleet that still ties up as they have for more than 160 years.

To complete your waterfront tour, hop the Embarcadero trolley and head south east to the Ferry Building. A 245’ masterpiece that opened in 1898 and was extensively renovated in 2003, this grand building was once the second busiest transit terminal in the world (until the two bridges opened in the 1930s). 

Today it’s home to a grand assemblage of good restaurants, shops and the famous Ferry Building Farmer’s Market, which operates Saturdays from 8 AM to 2 PM, and Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10 AM to 2 PM.  Complete your waterfront tour with a snack from one of the many Ferry Building eateries, then take the Embarcadero streetcars back to your starting place!

How to get there: Fisherman’s Wharf is 90 miles from Stockton, about 1.75 hours.  Take Interstate 5 south to Tracy, I-205 west to I-580 and continue across the new Bay Bridge (the concrete sections were made in Stockton); once in San Francisco, take the first exit to the right (Essex Street), follow the signs to the Embarcadero, then go left to Fisherman’s Wharf. (take your binoculars!).

What’s nearby: San Francisco Maritime Museum is just a block from the Hyde Street Pier, as is the Hyde Street Cable Car turntable and (across the street), the iconic Buena Vista Tavern.  The two warships are right in the thick of Fisherman’s Wharf, with fishing boats, many restaurants and plenty of tourist attractions.  Just two blocks further east is Pier 39, wildly popular with tourists; and heading southeast down the Embarcadero, the Ferry Building and lots more ships of the sea!

What to take: Good walking shoes, bicycles if a cyclist, snacks, drinks, sunscreen, a good map or GPS unit, camera and binoculars!

More info: For historic craft at the Hyde Street Pier in San Francisco, go to http://www.nps.gov/safr/ or call 415-447-5000.   For the USS Jeremiah O’Brien, http://www.ssjeremiahobrien.org/ and the USS Pampanito, http://www.maritime.org/pamphome.htm/, both docked at Fisherman’s Wharf/Pier 45 in San Francisco. For fees to tour the Pamponito or Jeremiah O’Brien, see the web sites.

Next week, we will take a look even closer to home, examining the “Top 10 List” of destinations in Stockton and San Joaquin County not to be missed (and, we’ll ask for your suggestions to add to the list!)

For additional travel destination inspiration, see my blog: http://blogs.eSanJoaquin.com/valleytravel; to contact me, tviall@msn.com.  Happy travels in the west!

Stockton Footnote: Stockton has both a long history in historic ship-building, and can lay claim to at least one warship of historic consequence!  The USS Lucid, a 172 foot, Aggressive Class mine sweeper, built in 1953 in New Orleans and identical to three other mine sweepers built in Stockton, is currently being refurbished here in Stockton.  For insight, www.stocktonhistoricalmaritimemuseum.org.

This entry was posted in Central California, Northern California, San Francisco Bay Area and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment

Post a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.

We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Rules. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or fill out this form.
  • Categories

  • Archives