Western Trips

Western Trips

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Tall Ships

tall ships
Western Trips had the opportunity to explore one of the more historic sailing ships now located on the west coast. This is a tour you definitely want to add to your San Francisco trip planner. Among the tall ships that plied the waters of the world, the Balclutha tells the story of an 1800's ship and the important role it played in maritime commerce. In a large way it's a living history museum that's available for anyone to explore.

Today, the Balclutha resides at the Hyde Street Pier which is a part of the San Francisco Maritime  National Historical Park in the western part of the Fisherman's Wharf area of San Francisco. The park is administered by the National Park Service and is probably one of the most interesting sites in the country to learn about 1800's shipping. In addition to the larger vessels the San Francisco Maritime Historical Park also features a collection of smaller boats.

There are five main vessels moored at the park and each has been designated as a National Historic Landmark. In addition to the Balclutha, visitors will be able to inspect the Alma, Eureka, C.A. Thayer and Hercules.

balclutha ship
Main deck
Balclutha Hauls California Wheat to Europe

The Balclutha is one of the best preserved tall ships you'll come across today. This is a three masted, steel
hulled, square-rigged ship that was built to carry a variety of cargo all over the world.

The Balclutha was launched in Glasgow Scotland in 1886 and carried cargo an amazing seventeen times around Cape Horn. Amazingly, she accomplished these seventeen trips in thirteen years. This was the era before the Panama Canal. Any journey from Europe to the west coast meant a trip around the often perilous cape. It also meant a journey of several months, likewise the crew lived on board for months at a time.

The Balclutha usually had a crew of about twenty-five. Later during her service to the Alaskan salmon industry she was known to have more than one hundred crew on board.

san francisco maritime museum
Three Masted Tall Ship
The ship was built primarily to haul California wheat to Europe. It's maiden voyage began in January 1887 as the ship cast off from Wales destined for San Francisco. The Balclutha was at sea for 140 days before entering the Golden Gate of San Francisco Bay. After mooring, the Balclutha unloaded coal shipments to California and readied herself  to take on wheat.,

The Balclutha Crosses the Pacific

This historic tall ship called on several ports throughout the world during the 1890's. New Zealand is one example. Here the Balclutha hauled wool to London.

In 1899 Balclutha's registry was changed to Hawaii upon which time the tall ship became a part of the busy west coast lumber industry. Much of her travels during this period were between the Puget Sound area and Australia. The lumber she carried to Australia was important for the bustling mining going on there.

An historic note about the Balclutha was that she was the last vessel registered under the Hawaiian Kingdom status. Congress voted to allow the ship to change her registry to the U.S. which allowed her to operate between U.S. ports. This opened the way for the Balclutha's entry into the growing Alaskan fishing industry.

tall ship balclutha
Balclutha below deck
Balclutha and the Alaskan Packers Association

The Balclutha is still around today because she was never scrapped like so many other vessels from the 1800's. The vessel changed careers several times as mentioned above and it was for this reason she remained around. She was able to adapt to the changing maritime commerce environment on the U.S. west coast. In other words, there always seemed to be a need for her.

The Names of the Balclutha

This tall ship went aground in 1904 near Kodiak Island. The vessel was then bought by the Alaska Packers for a distressed price of only $500 and renamed the Star of Alaska. The newly renamed ship worked in the salmon hauling trade until 1930. In 1933 the vessel took on another owner and was renamed the Pacific Queen. The Pacific Queen found itself appearing in the film Mutiny on the Bounty with Clark Gable.

hyde street pier san francisco
Cargo Hold exhibit
The Balclutha's Restoration

Today, visitors to the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park are able to tour the vessel because of the work started for her restoration in 1954. After her film debut in the 1930's theBbalclutha didn't do much of anything other than being a floating exhibit ship.

Over the decades the vessel deteriorated and it was a 1976 restoration effort that made her what she is today. This was accomplished with donations including material and labor from the local community. The Balclutha was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1976. If you're in the San Francisco Bay Area and really want to explore an historic tall ship, you'll absolutely love touring the Balclutha.

The links below will take you to additional photo articles we've published which you'll enjoy. All three vessels featured are on display in the San Francisco Bay Area.

USS Red Oak Victory Ship

USS Pampanito Submarine

Jeremiah O'Brien Liberty Ship

three masted ship
Crew sleeping quarters in bow
Touring the Balclutha

When you tour this historic sailing vessel you will be able to inspect it bow to stern. This is a large vessel. The dimensions are as follows...overall length 301 feet...beam 38.6 feet...height of the main mast 145 feet and the depth 22.7 feet.

The National Park Service offers guided tours of the Balclutha and you're also free to do a self-guided tour as well. All of the rooms and compartments are identified with informational plaques and you'll also get a good glimpse of all the different cargoes the ship hauled during her service life.The cargo holds are filled with various crates and boxes which reflect the brand names of the era such as with the various canneries of Alaska.

(Article and photos are copyright 2013 Western Trips)

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