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San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park


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This is Gwen Outen. And this is Bob Doughty with EXPLORATIONS in VOA Special English.

Today we tell about the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park.  This unusual national park celebrates the great harbor of San Francisco, California.  It also celebrates the men and women who sailed the ships that made this harbor famous.Our story begins long ago in October, 1769.  A group of Spanish explorers have come north from Mexico.  They are moving slowly up the coast of the territory of California. The governor of California, Gaspar de Portola, leads the group.

The men and horses are tired.  It has been a long trip.  Governor de Portola decides to rest for a few days.  But he still wants to explore the area.  He orders a young man to take some soldiers and search to the north for a few kilometers.  The young man is Jose Francisco Ortega

On the morning of November second, 1769, Ortega leads his small group of soldiers up a hill.  What they see from the top of the hill makes them stop.  There, below them, is a body of water.  They are looking at a huge bay.  Its waters seem to stretch for many kilometers to the north, south and east.  The waters are very calm.

When the small group of soldiers reports to Governor de Portola, they are excited.  They tell him of a huge natural harbor.  A Spanish religious worker reports the harbor is so large it could hold all of the ships of Europe.

Six years after the huge bay was discovered, the Spanish ship San Carlos is sailing north along the coast of California. Juan Manuel de Ayala commands the ship.  As the little ship sails along the coast, one of the crew reports to de Ayala.  He says there is a huge opening in the landmass several kilometers wide.

De Ayala orders the San Carlos to sail carefully into the opening.  A crewmember reports the water in the opening is more than 120 meters deep.   Slowly the little ship enters the huge natural harbor.

For more than a month, de Ayala and his crew will sail their little ship around the huge bay.  They make maps and study the area. They discover the bay is more than 80 kilometers long and from three to 19 kilometers wide.  On September 18, 1775, the San Carlos leaves the great bay.  The San Carlos was the first ship to enter what would become San Francisco Bay.The Spanish exploration was the beginning of the history of San Francisco harbor.  That long history is celebrated at the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park.

The park's main visitor center and museum is only a few hundred meters from the waters of the great harbor.  The main building and the surrounding area are part of the history of the city and its link with the Pacific Ocean.  It is a memorial to the great ships and those who sailed them

The Maritime National Park was designed to tell the story of the huge harbor.  It also tells of the importance of the bay to the city of San Francisco, the state of California and the United States.

The visitor center holds many objects linked to the past of the great harbor.  There are small ships, ship equipment, and hundreds of beautiful old photographs.  Many of the photographs from about 1849 show thousands of sailing ships surrounding the city of San Francisco.  This is when gold was discovered in California.  Thousands of people came looking for gold and wealth.

Many visitors also stop to look at a large painting of a huge sailing ship.  The painting shows the ship fighting against an angry ocean.  Blue and green waters break against the side of the ship.  Men high up in the ship's masts are trying to control the sails.  It is a painting of a ship named the "Balclutha." The ship was built in Scotland in 1886.

Visitors learn that the Balclutha fought storms around the tip of South America on its first trip.  It reached the harbor of San Francisco after one 140 days at sea.  It carried a cargo of coal from Britain.

Visitors who look at the painting can go out the front door of the visitor center and see the real Balclutha.  The Balclutha is the largest of almost 100 ships and boats that are part of the Maritime National Park.

People walking near Fisherman's Wharf often do not believe their eyes when they first see the Balclutha.  Almost everyone stops and looks at the huge ship.  Many people take photographs.

The Balclutha is more than 91 meters long.  The three tall masts that once carried its sails reach 44 meters into the sky.  It seems to be an object from the past that has arrived in modern San Francisco.

The great ship looks almost new.  Several years ago, more than one million dollars was spent to repair and paint the Balclutha.  Now, more than 200,000 people a year visit the ship.  The visitors learn how the Balclutha once traveled the world carrying cargo.  They can see a photograph of the first crew of the Balclutha.  That crew sailed it into San Francisco harbor with a cargo of coal more than 100 years ago.The Balclutha is perhaps the most popular ship with visitors to the Maritime Park.  However they can also visit several others ships.  These are also very important to the history of the great harbor.  But not all of these ships are open to the public.  One that is open is a small steam-powered workboat that was built in 1907.

This small boat is named the Hercules.  The Hercules is a tugboat.  Until 1924 it pulled ships around the harbor.  It pulled huge amounts of wood from trees from the city of Seattle, Washington in the north all the way to Panama.  And it moved cargo from place to place within San Francisco harbor.

Another boat popular with visitors is the Eureka.  It was built in 1890.  It is the largest wooden ship still floating today.  The Eureka was a ferryboat.  It carried people and cars across San Francisco bay.  It did this until the Golden Gate Bridge and the Oakland Bay Bridge were built.

The C.A. Thayer is another sailing ship.  It was built in 1895.  It carried wood from trees along the Pacific Coast from the state of Washington to California. Later it was used as a fishing boat.  It is one of only two West Coast lumber ships in existence.  A few years ago, it was badly in need of repair.  The park decided to rebuild the ship using traditional materials

The work began in 2003. The C.A. Thayer returned to its home in the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park in April 2007.  The superintendent of the park, Kate Richardson, said the project "preserved an important piece of history and culture."

A much smaller sailing ship is called the Alma.  Sailors called this kind of ship a scow.  It usually had only two crewmembers and perhaps a boy who was learning how to work on a boat. The Alma was the kind of small ship used during the California Gold Rush.  It delivered cargo across the great harbor and up rivers.  Ships like the Alma carried almost everything -- bricks, salt, lumber, grain, food.  The little ships could carry as much cargo as a large modern truck.The San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park also has a very unusual looking museum.  It is a large building that almost looks like a ship.  The museum is filled with interesting equipment.  One room has been made to look like a ship's radio room

Radio operators show visitors how the equipment was used. One of the most interesting objects in the museum is a small sailboat only large enough for one person.  It is only five-and-one-half meters long.  The little boat is named Mermaid.  In 1962, Japanese sailor Kenichi Horie sailed the Mermaid alone across the Pacific Ocean from Japan to San Francisco.  No one had ever done such a thing before.

From the top of the building, visitors can watch the ships of the world sail in and out of the great harbor.  Visitors to the San Francisco Maritime National Park learn that the history of the harbor is important to the past.  And the work of San Francisco harbor continues into the futureThis program was written by Paul Thompson.  It was produced by Mario Ritter.  This is Bob Doughty. And this is Gwen Outen.  Join us again next week for another EXPLORATIONS program in VOA Special English.


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Source: In City by the Bay, Celebrating the History of a Harbor
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