Northern California – Day 10 (part one)

The following is an exact copy of my Facebook Status from the morning of Day 10. 

 Erik Smith

With weather like this, I have a feeling I’m going to find it real hard to like San Francisco.

· · September 14 at 8:14am via mobile

It turns out, I couldn’t have been more wrong.
I’d arrived in Marin County north of San Francisco the previous evening to gray skies and fog. I’d hoped the morning would look different as I prepared to board the ferry from Larkspur to San Francisco. I had decided it would be best not to drive into the city on my first day there. One reason was I would save quite a bit on parking, but also I love taking ferries or other local transportation so I can see how the locals live. As we rocketed across the bay, I kept looking west toward the Golden Gate Bridge, but the fog obscured all but the very bottom of the pylons. 
Another reason to take the ferry in was to see the rehabilitated Ferry Building. When I asked one of my former students who is very familiar with San Francisco what to see, this was near the top of his list. 
Not only is it a magnificent building, it is now filled with many unique shops, as well as restaurants and cafes. Ferries leave from the building to all over the Bay area, and I noticed timetables for as many as 6 other destinations. 
I walked down Market Street headed toward it’s junction with Powell Street. Once there, I bought a San Francisco CityPass, which gave me admission to five sights, as well as a seven day MUNI & Cable Car Passport. My first use of the pass was to take the Cable Car from Market Street all the way to Ghirardelli Square. 

I’ve taken Cable Cars in other cities (Melbourne, Seattle) but there was something very San Francisco-esqe about the whole experience. 

Ghirardelli Square was pretty sleepy at 9:15 AM on a Wednesday morning. I was told by a local I talked with later that on nice days and weekends the square fill up quickly.
 My destination was another National Park Unit, San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park. This is another park I knew only the basics about before getting there. I had read that it was located on a restored pier in the old historic waterfront district and that is had a few restored historic ships. I thought the park would be good for a quick look around and then I would head down to the Fisherman’s Wharf area and Pier 39 before heading to AT&T Park and the Giants game. Needless to say, I didn’t make it to either of those areas in the morning, instead I spent two and a half hours exploring this gem of a National Park.
Besides the historic ships, the park had it’s own ship building & repair workshop, where vessels of many different kinds were being attended to. As always with the NPS, there were demonstrations in these crafts through the day and personnel on hand to answer visitor’s questions. I hadn’t read about this aspect of the park, but was impressed with the creativity behind the idea. 
The highlight of the park, as would be expected, were the ships. The first one I visited was the Eureka, a side wheel paddle steamboat that used to be the main vehicle connection between the city of San Francisco and the communities of the North Bay before The Golden Gate Bridge was built. 
During the first decade of the 20th Century, the Eureka was pretty luxurious, even containing a restaurant that served full meals during the short passage. It has been beautifully restored, and the first floor deck contains vehicles from the era. 
The second boat was the steam tug Hercules. This ship spent it’s sea life towing either ships or cargo up and down the North American  Pacific Coast. 
One of the signature features of tug boats are their immensely powerful engines, which allow them to tow boats 4 to 5 times their sizes and weight. The Hercules’ engine room had been beautifully resotred (so well that I doubt it looked so good during it’s working days), and was well signposted with explinations of how such a tiny ship could be so powerful. 

I’m always fascinating looking at the crew quarters on ships like this. I try to imagine myself living in such close confines for such a long period of time. While working a tugboat probably had it’s share of adventure, I’m sure it also had many days of monotony. 

While the quarters and galley (pictured right) look snug, I also tried to imagine how uncomfortable they would be in choppy seas or storms. It certainly takes away some of the romanticism people associate with the life of a sailor.
 My favorite of the big ships was the Balclutha. This gallant vessel is a steel-hulled, three-masted, full-rigged ship. The Balclutha has a prodigious career as a trading vessel. It started it’s career carrying goods from America to Europe, Australia and South America. It’s enormous cargo area made it one of the most valuable ships on the ocean.

Cargo area in the Balclutha
From 1902 to 1930, the Balclutha spent her days shuttling Alaskan Salmon to the West Coast for the Alaska Packers’ Association under the name Star of Alaska. After 1930, the ship was renamed The Pacific Queen, and used in movies, such as Mutiny on the Bounty, Before finally being acquired by the San Francisco Maritime Museum and being turned into a museum.
One of the most impressive features of the Balclutha was the National Park Service’s staff maintaining the rigging of the sails. The power behind the Balclutha was it’s 25 sails. Today, specially trained Park Service Personnel maintain the ships restored sails and rigging. On the day I was there, two ‘crew’ members were aloft in the rigging doing some sort of maintenance. It looked like a challanging job while the ship was moored, imagining people up there while the ship was in the open seas gave me chills down my spine.

The visitor’s center at San Francisco Maritime NHP
As I mentioned earlier, I spent way more time at the park than I had expected. This left me only a few short minutes to browse through the impressive displays in the park’s visitor center located across the street. Also inside the building is a small office area which has the guides form many of the National Parks of the American West, and I, as would be expected from a national park junkie like myself, took every guide that was available.

It was approaching noon as I left the visitor’s center, and I needed to quickly catch a tram over to AT&T park for the Giants-Padres game which started at 12:30PM. 

I’ll cover the game & ballpark, the Pier 39 Aquarium and Pier 39 itself in the second part of this post…

3 Responses to “Northern California – Day 10 (part one)”

  1. Annie says:

    I'm glad you didn't let the weather get you down! There is too much to see in San Fran to bother about the weather! We had the same happen to us when we were the in August but thankfully we still enjoyed every minute of it!

  2. Kris Koeller says:

    Other than the fog, looks like you had a great (and comprehensive) visit to SF! I used to work a few blocks from the Ferry Building and went there for lunch often. My office overlooked the Bow & Arrow Park down the street. Great food in there, although it can be a zoo on the weekend. Your HDR shots aboard the Eureka came out terrific.

  3. I haven't been to the Maritime National Historic Park, but it sounds fascinating! And with Kali's obsession with boats, I'm surprised he hasn't dragged me there yet. 🙂

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