November 30, 2009

ahoy, San Francisco

click photo for full-size image
photo by Donald Kinney

Years ago when they were excavating for the foundations of the Transamerica Pyramid they found a whole row of buried wind-schooners, parked at their destination and used as land-fill for the new downtown area.

click photo for full-size image
photo by Donald Kinney

This is aboard the Balcutha at the Hyde Street Pier, one of five old ships they let people spook and snoop around on for a small admission fee.

click photo for full-size image
photo by Donald Kinney

The Balcutha was a wind-powered square-rigger with sturdy steel sides, built in 1886 in Glasgow, Scotland.   She hauled freight "around the horn" using only the wind -- steam engines were available when she was built but some shippers continued to use wind-power because it was a cheaper form of transport.

click photo for full-size image
photo by Donald Kinney

San Francisco and the Sea   (((copied from the Hyde Street Pier brochure)))
While native peoped paddled the bay in reed canoes, European explorers charted the coastline.   In 1776 the Spanish settled at the site of present-day San Francisco.   Soon afterward ships came in search of seal and sea otter furs.   In the 1820's whalers arrived, and Boston merchant ships began trading for California cowhides.

In 1849, after the discovery of gold in the Sierra Nevada foothills, the world rushed in.   That year over 750 ships arrived in San Francisco.   Some fortune seekers came on sleek, American-built clipper ships, but most sailed in on just about anything that could float.   They often abandoned their vessels in the shallows.

The Gold Rush brought merchants, laborers, and craftspeople from around the world.

By the 1870's California;s burgeoning grain trade lured big European sailing ships like the Balcutha.   Fleets of schooners like C.A. Thayer arrived with Douglas fir from Puget Sound.   Flat-bottomed scow schooners like Alma sailed up the Delta into California's Central Valley.   They delivered plows, and seed, sewing machines and cloth, coal and oil.   And they returned stacked with jute bags of hard white wheat, well suited for long-distance shipping.   On San Francisco's docks the bags were hand-loaded into the holds of sailing ships bound for Europe.

After the grain trade diminished and railroads reached the lumber mills and valleys, many sailing vessels were abandoned or scrapped.   The lucky ones were refitted for other careers.   Balcutha and C.A. Thayer went on to supply Alaska fisheries in the late 1800's and early 1900's.   American inter-coastal steamer traffic exploded after the Panama Canal opened in 1914.   West Coast shipyards opened to meet the demands of World Wars 1 and 2.

For a time, a dazzling array of vessels crowded the San Francisco waterfront:   great sailing ships, coastal passenger steamers, military craft, and the local working boats.

One by one, these ships became obsolete but nonetheless treasured for their beauty and for the stories they told.

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Tomate Farcie said...

I'm not surprised. Much of that area is on landfill, in fact if you walk around behind the Transamerica you'll find a small street / alley with brass waves embedded on the ground. That's where the beach used to be.

They found another hull 9 years ago when they were building the hotel next to that Dim Sum restaurant. All construction had to stop for a while, and archeologists, students and volunteers invaded the site for a few weeks. You could see them down there with little brushes looking for stuff. Then, they left and they built on top of it eventually.

Tomate Farcie said...

BTW, great shot on the daily duo (left surfer / right surfer) . Awesome, dude! Sorry, surf going to my head. ;)

Tomate Farcie said...

Holly cow, a human spammer!
I thought that was an urban legend.

AphotoAday said...

HELLO TONY -- Facebook, you say... Actually, I already have an account over there that I don't use much...

Watching them do the digging would have been fun... It's amazing to realize that all the flat downtown area is just fill...

under construction