Alan Olson walked around in his stocking feet on top of draftingpaper laid out across the floor of a Sausalito warehouse andsounded like the sea captain he is as he explained the nuances ofthe sailing vessel of his dreams. Olson, the director of the nonprofit group Educational Tall Shipfor San Francisco Bay, is in charge of an innovative, $5 millionproject to build a duplicate of the kind of wooden sailing shipsthat were constructed in the Bay Area by 19th century shipbuilderMatthew Turner. Olson, 70, of Mill Valley and his helpers were carefully layingdown plywood boards shaped to the exact dimensions of the 42vertebrae that will make up the framework of the ship, the firststage of the design-and-build process. "This is what it will look like when it is finished," said Olson,pointing to a painting of an old-time ship with myriad flappingsails reaching to the sky. |
"It can be used in the ocean and alongthe coast. They are fast because of the power of the sails." Students, volunteers help The classic, 130-foot sailing vessel, called a brigantine, will bebuilt from scratch over 18 to 21 months with help from students andvolunteer carpenters and then sailed and maintained by Bay Areayoungsters, who will use it as a kind of industrial arts andmaritime history classroom. Olson, a longtime sailor and boat builder, said he is nownegotiating with the Port of San Francisco for a waterfront site inMission Bay to both build the ship and dock it when it iscompleted. Several other possible waterfront sites, includingRichmond and Sausalito, are being looked at in case San Franciscodoesn't work out, he said.
The plan is to design, build and rig the ship using the samematerial and methods that Turner used to build his ships. Turnerbuilt 228 vessels, including brigs, yachts, South Seas packets andschooners, between 1864 and 1907, making him the most prolificsailing shipbuilder in American history. The entire ship, including the hull, planking and decking will bebuilt out of Douglas fir, the same kind of wood that was used 150years ago. Carbon neutral The difference is that Turner built his ships using timber from thevast old-growth forests that once covered California and werevirtually wiped out to build San Francisco and the other cities ofthe West Coast. The Tall Ship group will be using wood donated bythe nonprofit Conservation Fund, which uses carbon-neutral loggingpractices on a sustainably managed forest next to Big River, inMendocino County, which has been saved from development.
The result will be the first fully carbon-neutral sailing vessel ofits size in the world. The tall ship won't be the only wooden sailing vessel built in theold style by ship aficionados - a Spanish galleon is being built inSan Diego - but Olson said it will be the only large brigantineship with clear San Francisco roots built with sustainable productsspecifically for educational uses. Modern features Olson said some 21st century features will be used, including aninnovative propulsion system that will use rushing water to createelectricity to power the backup generator. An electric motor willalso be attached, something the Coast Guard insists upon.
The blueprints, though, are straight out of the Matthew Turnerschool of boat-building. A ship captain, Turner was able topurchase his own vessel using the money he made mining during theGold Rush and eventually became a cod-fishing entrepreneur andsugar and tropical produce tradesman. He designed his first vesselin an attempt to improve speed and efficiency of trade ships plyingthe capricious winds and rough weather conditions unique to thePacific Ocean. His innovative designs and Bermudian sail systemproved effective, and his skills were soon in great demand.
Famed vessels Turner's shipyard, in what is now San Francisco's Mission Bay area,produced an average of one launch a month for eight years startingin 1875. One boat, the Equator, was commissioned for famous authorRobert Louis Stevenson. Another, the Lurline, won three of thefirst four Los Angeles to Hawaii Trans Pacific Yacht races. Speed was what made his sailboat, Galilee, famous. It made the runfrom San Francisco to Papeete, on the island of Tahiti, in 22 days,a record that still stands.
Turner moved his shipyard to Benicia in1883. Olson chose the Galilee as the model for his ship. The students whobuild it over the next two years will be recruited from localschools, churches, youth organizations, science and sailingprograms, he said, and will be supervised by workers fromTri-Coastal Marine, a company that specializes in boat building anddesign. "We are not only hoping to stir some interest in the history ofMatthew Turner, but to preserve and revitalize the rich maritimehistory of the San Francisco Bay," he said. The group has raised $1.25 million in cash and donations of lumber,enough to begin framing the ship.
Olson said the nonprofit hopes toraise the rest of the $3.75 million once word gets out and theproject gains momentum. When it is completed in 2014, Olson said his other nonprofit, Callof the Sea, will organize sailing trips and educational programsfor up to 80 passengers, 40 of whom can stay overnight. "There are a million kids in the Bay Area who could take advantageof this instead of staring into their electronic equipment," hesaid. "By getting them in touch with the natural world instead ofthe virtual world, we can make a real difference in their lives." Learn more Online: For more information on the tall ship project, visit.
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