In December I went on a trip with my wife to San Diego. She needed to go there to attend a continuing education course, and being a good husband, I made the sacrifice and volunteered to go along with her. It’s so difficult to find anything to do in San Diego. The first evening we were there we walked along the beach and wandered through Seaport Village. They had a lot of nice little shops and restaurants, and a building housing a Looff carousel, hand-carved in 1895 with 54 animals and two horse-drawn chariots. It’s really quite a work of art. From what I’ve read, it sounds like Looff is kind of the grandfather of a lot of modern day carousels. You can see pictures of the carousel. I know the the Looff carousel doesn't have anything to do with boating, but I couldn't help admiring the craftsmanship and wondering what Looff could have done with a ship.
The next day while my wife was in class, I wandered along the board walk and visited the San Diego Maritime Museum. I spent most of the day at the museum, wandering through ships, and a submarine, trying to read all of the informational plaques. I was so tired by late afternoon that I really didn’t finish looking at everything. A lot of the exhibits for the museum are housed on board the 1898 steam ferryboat, the Berkeley. I spent a lot of my time just wandering through the exhibits on this boat, and of course the museum gift shop is there as well. They had a great number of books and drawings on the rigging and sails of tall ships. Given the number on some of them, it must have taken a great deal of effort to memorize all of the names as well as how all of the rigging worked.
There are two submarines at the museum, the B-39 and the USS Dolphin. I only went through the B-39, a diesel electric submarine from the Soviet Navy, commissioned in the early 1970s. You have to be pretty limber to climb through the hatches and then you’re constantly bent over to keep from hitting your head on things. I found it extremely fascinating and claustrophobic at the same time. I have never seen so many valves, switches, levers and so much cabling in all my life. I have no idea how the men that sailed on the thing endured it. I guess if you were extremely short it would help. Anyway, after going through the B-39 I just couldn’t bear the thought of going through another submarine, so I skipped the tour of the Dolphin.
Now the thing I enjoyed most about the museum was going through the sailing ships and actually sailing on one of them, the tall ship Californian. I started with the HMS Surprise, a replica of an 18th century Royal Navy frigate. It began life as Rose in 1970. Later it underwent a conversion to the HMS Surprise for a movie, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World. I took several pictures of the Surprise. I’m guessing little boys and girls would love a tour on this ship as it had lots of guns on board. If you follow the link above and click on Interesting Facts, you will find that Phil Bolger created the construction drawings for Rose. There are a lot of little informational plaques on the ship explaining how life on board would have been. I would love to go for a sail on this one as well, but I think they only take it out about once a year, or maybe for special occasions. They weren’t sailing it while I was there.
I also toured the Star of India, an iron hulled ship built in 1863. She originally bore the name Euterpe, and still sails once a year in November, manned by trained volunteers. Being considerably larger than Surprise, I spent more time on this ship, exploring the different decks and looking at the displays. There was also a volunteer on board answering questions about the ship. It was a lot of fun talking to him about the history and construction of the ship. Some of the displays on the ship had excerpts from letters written by emigrants on their way to New Zealand. From what I read it was a rough passage. Looking at the quarters below decks, it’s hard to imagine the number of people squeezed into the berths for those trips. Those emigrants had a hard life getting to New Zealand, hard tack and salt junk. Not like the luxury cruises people take today, with steak and lobster.
I guess this would be a good time to mention that all of the tall ships that are taken out sailing from the museum are manned by trained volunteers. I talked to the gentleman on board the Star of India about this. He said that they have a very rigorous training program for the volunteers. In addition to having to demonstrate knowledge about the jobs they are assigned to, they have to pass a physical fitness test. I take my hat off to these volunteers. They are all very friendly, knowledgeable, and excited about the work they do.
I ran out of time to go see it while I was there, but the museum is also building a replica of Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo’s San Salvador, flagship of the Spanish expedition that was the first to explore what is now the west coast of the United States. The construction of this ship is ongoing and is open to public viewing. I was really sad that I missed it, but I only had a few days and wanted to make the most of my sailing time. Some of the crew on the Californian were discussing the San Salvador while we were sailing out in the bay. They seemed pretty excited about it.
I bought my ticket for the ride on the Californian on Thursday. It cost me $43.00 and included the admission price to the museum. I thought that was an incredible deal in this day and age. So I spent most of my day on Thursday exploring the exhibits of the museum, but my sail wasn’t until Saturday. I should warn you that if you decide to do the sail you should pack a sandwich to bring along. They only sell chips and candy on the cruise. When you’re out for four hours you start wanting something a little more substantial than chips.
On Friday I managed to get a ride on a big (relatively speaking) catamaran. When I first started checking around to get a ride on a sailboat, a couple of places just wanted to rent me a boat to take out by myself. Since I have very limited sailing experience and haven’t sailed anything other than my puddle duck, I decided that wasn’t a good idea. Eventually one of the places offered to rent me a boat and send a captain out with me. Then they mentioned a gentleman with a catamaran, and suggested I call him. That turned out to be a great suggestion, with just me and the captain (Rod Jones) on board; he set me at the wheel for most of the cruise. It was basically a private sailing lesson. Along the way he told me about some of his sailing adventures and stories about when he first learned to sail as a kid. We sailed out just past the edge of the bay where I could see the lighthouse and turned around and came back. My cruise lasted for about three hours and it ended all too soon. The catamaran was very smooth and handled very well. I only stalled it in a tack once. Now this trip was more expensive than my cruise on the Californian, but it was a very different kind of cruise and worth every penny. The captain seemed a little disappointed that we didn’t have more wind, but we had enough wind to move pretty well and I had a blast.
On Saturday morning I walked over to the maritime museum a little early for my cruise on the Californian. I got there in time to see a demonstration firing of a couple of cannons. They discussed the difference between cannons and guns, the primary difference being the carriages the barrels are mounted on. After the demonstration the passengers boarded the Californian for our sail. I think there were about sixteen people on board. The captain gave us a safety briefing on the ship, what to watch out for, and how to react in event of an emergency. Once the briefing was done, the ship motored part way down the bay until there was enough wind to raise the sails. It was then that I discovered that the passengers are part of the crew. They lined up passengers on both sides of the ship and we hauled away on lines to raise the sails. Everything was very coordinated and it was a smooth operation.
The weather was a lot nicer on Saturday than it had been on Friday. I saw a lot more sailboats out on the bay. I don’t know if it was because the weather was nicer or if it was because it was the weekend. But they were beautiful to watch in motion. As we were motoring out into the bay we were passed by an America’s Cup boat that docks by the museum, Abracadabra. It looked to be quite fast. If I had more than the few days I was there I would have tried to get a ride on that boat as well.
The Californian really started to move once the sails were raised.
We went much further past the edge of the bay than I had gone in the catamaran. When the crew got ready to turn the ship around and head back, it was quite a performance with the sails making the tack. They had crew members lined up on both sides of the ship to release and haul in the sheets for both foresails. It was choreographed very nicely. Once they tied off the sheets they had to coil up all of the slack that was left lying on the deck. When we first raised the sails on the ship the crew members had to coil up all of the line lying on the deck then as well. With a tall ship that’s a lot of line. If you don’t coil it up and get it out of the way, it will definitely become a trip hazard for someone. I know I sometimes have trouble keeping the lines out of my way on my little puddle duck. It amazed me at how good a job the crew did keeping them organized on the Californian.
While we were sailing through the bay I saw the amphibious vehicle for the San Diego SEAL Tour. I had seen it a couple of times around the Seaport village. It was certainly a funny looking vehicle on land, and looked better in the water. When we passed by it out in the bay I was surprised at how far out it went. It was a very capable looking vehicle and really got around, but I think I’ll stick with sail boats.
There was one other big thing I wanted to see while I was there but just ran out of time. The aircraft carrier Midway was anchored within a few minutes of our hotel. Every day I kept thinking that I would stop by and go through it on my way back from the museum or one of my sailing adventures. Unfortunately by the time I reached the end of the day I was always too tired to tour the Midway. So hopefully I’ll get another trip back someday and get to do that. I think there was a lot to see it on it.
I wanted to go sailing again on my last day in San Diego, but I had some Christmas shopping to do and wanted to eat lunch with my wife since I hadn’t been seeing her during the day. My wife’s conference was held in the convention center right next to the Gas Lamp District. It was fun seeing all of the shops and we ate supper there in the evenings. I also did some shopping in Seaport village. It was very touristy, but I had a good time anyway. Eating a pretzel there one morning, I was suddenly surrounded by birds. It was a little creepy and kind of reminded me of Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds”. After they realized that I wasn’t going to give them any of my pretzel they left me alone.
I planned to go back and take more pictures at the museum on my last day, but failed to do that before I left. Instead I spent my time enjoying the scenery and walking along the bay. There were some interesting sailboats anchored on buoys. Everything from beautiful, expensive looking boats to floating hulks that looked like they might go under on the next wave. I was told that the area where these boats were moored was the “low rent district”. I had a wonderful time in San Diego. I got to go on a couple of wonderful sailing trips, eat some great food, and enjoy some interesting history. There were a lot more things to go see and do than I had time to see and do them in. I’ll have to plan carefully the next time I go so that I can catch the things I missed.
The detailed historical information in this article came from the web links embedded in the article.
Skull and Crossbones - You can never get away from the pirates! I was surprised to see this flag flying on the back of a boat as I was walking along the edge of the beach. Perhaps it was a warning!
Cheap Mooring and View of Cruise Ships - The "low rent" district for mooring, at least according to one source. There was quite a variety in the appearance of the sailboats that were moored on buoys in this area. It appeared that a fair number of them were lived on. I got a kick out of the all the different styles of dinghies that people had tied up at the dock to get out to their sailboats. Some were very fancy and others didn't look very seaworthy at all. I saw an inflatable tied up at the dock that looked to be going flat and another inflatable that had gone completely flat, lying across the bow of a sailboat. It made me wonder how they got back to the dock.
Stern of HMS Surprise - A view from the stern of the HMS Surprise. I really liked this view with the lantern on the stern.
HMS Surprise Sleeping Hammocks - I hope no one had to fire one of the guns while folks were sleeping! This seems like really tight quarters to me.
HMS Surprise Wheels – They appear to be tied off. I thought it was clever construction. When I zoom in on this picture there are links of a chain in the two lines on the vertical piece supporting the left side.
Star of India from deck of HMS Surprise - A view of the Star of India from the deck of the Surprise. Notice all of the tidy lines coiled up. It really impresses me that a ship (the Star of India) can be almost 150 years old and still be in working order. Of course I'm sure the iron hull is partly responsible for that.
HMS Surprise Guns Below Deck - A lot of guns below the deck on the Surprise.
I don't think I would want to be in those tight quarters with those guns going off. Notice that all the guns seem to be named.
HMS Surprise Lines – Lines, lines everywhere. If only I could keep the lines on my little duck so neat! And all I really have to worry about is the sheet.
HMS Surprise More Lines - And yet more lines, again all very tidy.
HMS Surprise Deck Gun - A "gun" as opposed to a "cannon" on the deck of the HMS Surprise. The volunteers running the demonstration of the cannons and the guns talked about the difference between the two being the carriage the barrel is mounted on. Of course the carriage for a cannon wouldn't work too well on the deck of a ship.
HMS Surprise Figurehead - The figurehead of the HMS Surprise. I thought the detail on this figurehead was quite amazing. I'm thinking Looff would have added more color, but who knows.
HMS Surprise A Lot of Rigging – I was really surprised (no pun intended) at all of the rigging on the ship. I wonder how often all of that standing rigging has to be replaced.