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A Historical Cruise around our Waterfront Offered by the Spaulding Wooden Boat Center

"The Spaulding Wooden Boat Center is one of the last remaining wooden boat yards on the West Coast. It is a working boatyard and a maritime museum, and has been described as a “cathedral of wooden boats.”  The filtered light, the sawdust and wood chips on the floor, the smell of paint and varnish and the rows of hand tools tell you that this is where boats are still being built the traditional way, with skilled shipwrights using natural materials. The mission of the Spaulding Wooden Boat Center is to restore and return to active use significant, historic wooden sailing vessels; preserve and enhance our working boatyard; create a place where people can gather to use, enjoy, and learn about wooden boats; and educate others about wooden boat building skills, traditions and values."


The Center is hosting a series of open houses on Saturdays to familiarize the public with their historical and working boatyard. Free rides on board the Dixie are offered - 45 minute tours of the waterfront with a docent from the Sausalito Historical Society on board. Here's a story about one of those waterfront tours during the last open house.


by Annie Sutter


Six passengers, a captain and a docent from the SHS boarded the little Casco Bay lobster boat Dixie, pulled out from the dock at the end of the Wooden Boat Center and turned south into the channel. The docks of the Sausalito Shipyard and Marina came into view, berths filled with an assortment of vessels; modern houseboats, fishboats, pleasure craft, and a large tugboat tied to the outside. This was once called Jerry's Yacht Harbor, filled with little Monterey fishboats, many beautifully restored with their working Hicks engines still intact. Nearby is the spot where the famous Forbes Island was built, which slid down the ways on a high tide in the early 1980s to become a luxurious and controversial anchor-out in Sausalito; today the island is a high-end restaurant at Pier 39 in San Francisco. We are passing a historic jumble of docks and haul lifts, marine ways, boatyards and vessels in all stages of repair. This is the old Arques Shipyard, long a place where many old vessels, ferryboats, sailing ships, barges and scow schooners were hauled up onto the beach and left to rot or to be recycled. In the 1940s and 50s, when ferryboats were taken out of service on San Francisco Bay, this is where many ended up to be used as floating homes, studios, restaurants. There are working boatyards here, and Aquamaison, which builds concrete hulls for houseboats, and where houseboats can be hauled out of the water and repaired. The old Lefty's pier was used by fishermen, and once upon a time locals could go right down to the docks and buy fresh seafood off the boats.


This entire area of the waterfront was once occupied by Marinship, when Bechtel Co. was commissioned in 1942 to build Tankers and Liberty ships for World War II. Between 1942 and 1945, this huge complex built 93 ships for the war effort. Farther south Marinship Park marks the spot where the finished ships slid down the ways, and the Army Corps of Engineers docks and the Bay Model are located nearby. Commercial fishing vessels unload their catches at these docks, and it is a busy scene when the herring fishing season is open.


Then we pass Schoonmaker Point Marina, where hundreds of sailboats and powerboats are berthed and luxurious visiting yachts are side tied on the outside of the marina, some up to 200' long. This is the home of Gaslight, a replica of a working scow schooner of the 1800s, and Transquest, a modern research vessel. Schoonmaker Marina features a sandy beach, well used by families, dogs and picnickers, and a kayak and paddleboard rental agency.


Immediately adjacent is Galilee Harbor, named after the old sailing ship Galilee whose hull still lies in the mud, an active liveaboard community on a site long used for maritime activities. This was the site of the Napa St. pier, where in the 1870s and 80s fishermen and boatbuilders lived; then various boatyards flourished over the years; the Atlantic Boatbuilding Works in 1880, Oceanic Boatyard in the early 1900s, to Bob's Boatyard which opened in 1945.


Then Dixie turns around in the channel, and heads north. We pass Clipper Yacht Harbor, where seals are hauled out on the breakwater, enjoying the sun. Nearby we can just see the yellow stack of the ferryboat Vallejo, resting on the shore at Varda Landing, once home to artists and philosophers and the center of a free and easy lifestyle that characterized Sausalito. On to the houseboats of Waldo Point Harbor, the docks and piers built in the late 1970s , now occupied by elegant, colorful and well kept homes on the water, some new and modern, some restored relics of the assorted vessels that found their way to the houseboat communities. Most of the ferries have been lost, but the yellow vessel in the next harbor is the 1888 ferryboat the City of Seattle, now the flagship of the Yellow Ferry Harbor. With Richardson Bay Marina and Kappas Gate 6 1/2 ahead, we were getting in to the shallow end of the bay, so it was time to turn around in the channel and return to the Wooden Boat Center.


The next Open Houses and tours on Dixie will be held on June 9, July 14, August 18 and September 8. The Center is located at the foot of Gate Five Rd. For more information: www.spauldingcenter.org.




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    The Sausalito Historical Society - Marin Scope Columns - A Historical Cruise around our Waterfront Offered by the Spaulding Wooden Boat Center
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