San Francisco

Historic San Francisco Schooner Returns to Glory

The 1895 lumber schooner C.A. Thayer coasted into the harbor of San Francisco’s Hyde Street Pier on Monday — looking much more like a sailing ship than when it departed for the shipyards of Alameda last November.

“People would come by and ask if it was a replica of Noah’s Ark,” said Courtney Andersen, the National Park’s historic ship rigging supervisor, describing the then-mast less ship.

The schooner arriving back at the Maritime National Historic Park this week looked nothing like an ark. After undergoing major restoration work, the Thayer looked more like the stately sailing vessel of old photos. It was almost as if the journey to Alameda and back had routed through 120 years of seafaring history.

“The ship looks completely different than when she got to the yard back in November,” said park superintendent Kevin Hendricks.

During her respite in Alameda, crews at the Bay Ship and Yacht Company installed a new bowsprit to the front of the ship, applied a new paint job, and built three new masts to replace the ship’s original masts which were removed two decades back.

“Today’s the first day in a long time she’s looked like this,” Andersen exclaimed several weeks ago when the new masts were installed.

On Monday, the newly spruced-up ship departed Alameda for her home birth in San Francisco — a tugboat temporarily standing in for the wind.

“The idea is to have a completely authentic 1895 lumber schooner capable for sailing,” said Jeff Morris, the National Park’s Historic Ships Manager.

Over the next six months, riggers at the Maritime National Historic Park plan to hang new rigging, while a San Diego sailmaker crafts the ship’s new sails.

“This is literally the culmination of six years of work,” said Andersen, who spent years researching the ship’s period details.

The Thayer once numbered among hundreds of similar lumber ships hauling building materials and supplies to build the West. But the survivors of the era dwindled. After a similar schooner, the Wawona, rotted and was cut up in Seattle several years ago, the CA Thayer remained the lone survivor of the bunch.

“It wasn’t the fastest, it wasn’t the best, it wasn’t the biggest,” Andersen said. “It’s just the one that happened to be left after all the rest we’re gone.”

Among a handful of passengers making Monday’s cross-bay trek on the Thayer’s wooden decks was Brian Thayer Mullins, a descendant of Clarence Thayer, the San Francisco businessman who the ship was named after.

“When you think of something 19th century that’s as in a good a condition as this is,” Mullins said, “It just makes life in a bygone era much more tangible.”

Under tug power, the Thayer nestled into its place along the Hyde Street Pier, adjacent to its neighbor — the large wooden ship Balclutha. Once the Thayer is full restored, the public will be able to visit — to walk its decks and hear the creaking of her wooden beams in concert with the chattering of seagulls and sea lions.

“She’s the last one left,” Andersen said. “And the last one of anything is valuable because of that.”

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