San Francisco

‘We Give People a Peak Into the Past’: Historic 1895 Ship to Be Restored

The historic wooden schooner C.A. Thayer was on the move — sort of.

After decades tethered to San Francisco’s Hyde Street Pier, the historic, and now mastless ship shoved off, did a little pirouette near Aquatic Park and headed out toward the bay. It seemed little consequence the ship’s trajectory was under the steam of a pair tugs boats in place of the wind— she was moving.

For several years, the National Park Service has been slowly restoring the ship which is a registered National Historic Landmark. Last week the Park Service had the ship towed across the bay to an Alameda shipyard to get a new set of masts installed. And though the tugs provided the power, the couple dozen passengers on her deck got a tiny glimpse of life on a nautical workhorse.

“I think it’s really neat to put yourself in the mindset of what it would’ve been like to travel on this 100 years ago,” said Morgan Smith, a National Park Service outreach coordinator who was along for the ride.

As the ship slipped into the bay, she began to creak and groan like any 120-year old retiree suddenly pressed back into the workforce. The passengers didn’t seem to notice, snapping photos with smart phones — an activity that seemed decidedly out of place on the pre-1900 boat.

“The creaking and groaning of the ship are noises we typically don’t hear at the pier,” said Jeffrey Morris who oversees the Park Service’s historic ships. “So it’s another signal that the ship is more alive.”

Park Service educator Alice Watts estimated she’s spent half her life on the Thayer, teaching classes to school kids and hosting overnight campouts on the ship at Hyde Street Pier.

“She’s just talking to us,” said Watts as the creaking grew more desperate. “Sometimes she’s happy, sometimes she’s not.”

You would think a ship on the precipice of a whole second life would be in a fairly good mood. Morris said over the next few months, the Thayer will get three new masts and rigging. Morris hoped the ship would soon be able to make a similar trip across the bay, without any help.

“Ultimately our goal here is to have the Thayer restored to her 1895 condition and capable of sailing,” Morris said.

The C.A. Thayer was a working ship during her younger years. The ship was built in Fairhavenm near Eureka for the task of hauling lumber. The ship was typical of the wooden ships that would fill the San Francisco harbor delivering materials used to build the quickly expanding city. Later she was pressed into service hauling salmon and codfish.

In 1957 the Thayer was brought to Hyde Street and later became part of the National Park Service’s armada, used as a teaching vessel to educate children about life at sea. Somewhere along the way, her masts rotted and were removed.

“By having the boat restored to its original 1895 condition,” Morris said, “we give people a peak into the past.”

During the ship’s recent voyage, her passengers watched as the shoreline of the bay drifted past, a vastly changed landscape from when the ship began her runs in 1895. Now the last of her kind, the Thayer would bring a glimpse of an old sea faring time to a modern world.

“It’s one thing to look at a picture, hear a story,” said Watts. “But to actually come on board is a world in itself .”

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