Monday, September 28, 2009

San Diego's Treasures

San Diego's harbor is magnetic.

On this visit, we were drawn to the Maritime Museum and its fine collection of historic ships.

The centerpiece of this collection is the Star of India, the world's oldest active ship. She began her life at the Ramsey Shipyard in the Isle of Man in 1863 and made six voyages to India as a cargo ship.

In 1871, she was purchased by the Shaw Savill line of London and embarked on a quarter century of hauling emigrants to New Zealand, sometimes also touching Australia, California and Chile. She made 21 circumnavigations in this service, some of them lasting up to a year.

The ship was a full-rigged ship and would remain so until 1901, when the Alaska Packers Association rigged her down to a barque, her present rig.

As indicated on her bell, she originally bore the name Euterpe, after the Greek goddess of music. In 1898, she was sold to the Alaska Packers, who changed her name in 1906, dubbing her Star of India in keeping with their company's practice of naming ships Star of _________ (their most frequent destination).

(It is said to be bad luck to rename a ship, but keeping the Euterpe's bell was believed to be a way to void this negative consequence.)

The next three photographs are scenes from on deck. By 1923, steam ruled the seas. Sailing ships were obsolete and scores were laid up in ports, including the Star of India. What saved this particular ship from the knacker's torch was a determined band of San Diegans, led by reporter Jerry MacMullen. They scraped up $9,000 to buy the Star in 1926, and the following year she was towed to San Diego.

For the next three decades, however, the Star languished; the depression and World War II delayed her restoration to her days of glory. She began to assume an increasingly tattered appearance.

We wish we could have been there in 1957, when Captain Alan Villiers, a famous windjammer skipper and author, came to San Diego on a lecture tour. It was reported that "he took one look at the dilapidated Star and delivered a broadside to the local press, lambasting the citizenry for doing nothing to save this gallant ship." Things got better after that.

About one-third of the Captain's Quarters is shown here. This is about the size of the first class passengers' cabins.

The galley looked larger than I would have expected.

This is the dining room for the captain and first class passengers.

The windows above the dining room are shown here.

Most vessels of this era were still being built of wood. This ship was one of the first iron ships, and the bottom of the photo above shows these beams.

In 1976, the fully restored Star of India put to sea for the first time in fifty years. She now sails at least once a year, making her the oldest active ship of any kind in the world.

Originally christened HMS Rose when she was launched in 1970, HMS Surprise is a magnificent replica of an 18th century Royal Navy frigate. This ship, used in the film, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, found a permanent home at the Maritime Museum in 2004.

A docent aboard the Surprise asked, "Do you know what they call the bathroom on a ship?"

"The 'head,'" I answered.

"If you go to the bow and look over the edge, you'll see where the 'head' is," she directed.

Looking over the port side revealed this sight. Several questions rushed through my mind, but the docent was gone before I could ask any of them.

Probably just as well.

The Berkeley is an 1898 steam ferryboat that operated for 60 years on San Francisco Bay. During the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, Berkeley carried thousands of survivors to safety. To the state of California, she is "irreplaceable."

The Berkeley's upper salon deck still has the aura of the Victorian era in which she was created. In the large, airy space of 12,000 square feet, the ferryboat boasts elegant curved-back original seats of perforated teak and laminated black walnut.

The upper windows (left, in photo above) are original Kokomo opalescent glass that features numerous glass jewels in their design.

The windows (left) are not stained, but colored oxides were mixed into the molten glass before pouring. These priceless windows are among the most beautiful ever installed on a ferryboat.

Since her arrival in San Diego in 1973, the Berkeley has been in great demand for weddings because of its beautiful upper deck. Coincidently, my cousin Karen's husband Rev. Richard Allsing officiated at a wedding on the Berkeley during our visit to San Diego.

In stark contrast to the Berkeley is the jet-black Russian submarine alongside.

Tomorrow we go for a sail on the Lynx.

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