Historic Schooner C.A. Thayer Returns to Home Port

San Francisco Chronicle – By Carl Nolte – Monday, February 22, 2016

The old lumber schooner C.A. Thayer, the last ship of its kind, returned to its home port at the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park on Monday looking almost as good as new.

The vessel glistened in brand new black paint, new rigging and three new Douglas fir masts, which could make it possible to fulfill an old dream. With some more work, a bit of luck and some money, the 121-year-old museum ship may sail again.

“We’d love to sail her one day,” said Kevin Hendricks, superintendent of the maritime park.

The Thayer, last survivor of a fleet of steam and sailing schooners that carried lumber from the forests of California and the Pacific Northwest, made its last voyage under sail 59 years ago, when a volunteer crew sailed the ship from Seattle to San Francisco to become a floating exhibit.

The intervening years had not been kind to the old ship, which came perilously close to sinking at its Hyde Street berth in San Francisco. Old age and dry rot were the culprits.

But a major restoration that started a dozen years ago saved the ship. The hull was rebuilt, the rotten old masts were removed, and the ship got new frames and timbers. The work was done in stages — and the second stage, which began just before Thanksgiving, involved new masts and rigging.

The latest stage cost about $2.2 million, out of total projected costs of about $12 million in National Park Service funds.

The work was done at the Bay Ship and Yacht yard in Alameda. Courtney Andersen, the maritime park’s chief rigger, went over old records and pictures to figure out how to rig the ship so it would look just as it did on the day it was launched on Humboldt Bay in 1895. He called his search for clues to a vanished time “a maritime detective story.”

Visitors can watch progress

Andersen was aboard Monday, working with a National Park Service crew and admiring the old ship. He and his crew of workers and volunteers will do the complex rigging of a three-masted schooner at Hyde Street Pier. They will also install new sails.

“By August,” he said, “we’ll have sails aboard and raised.” The work will be done alongside the pier, and park visitors can watch.

The ship made its 6-mile voyage from Alameda in three hours, with the tugboat Betty L towing the ship slowly and carefully. The workboat Hawk went along, too, watching and assisting as needed. The Thayer has no engine.

Among the passengers invited along was Brian Mullins, who is the great-great-grandson of C.A. Thayer, the lumber company executive for whom the ship was named. Mullins brought along the house flag of the E.K. Wood Lumber Co., a San Francisco firm that had sawmills along the coast and lumberyards all over the Bay Area.

The Thayer was one of nine lumber ships the company owned. At one time there were hundreds of ships carrying redwood, fir and pine on the West Coast and in tiny dog-hole ports on the Sonoma and Mendocino county coasts. They carried the lumber that built the Victorian houses and was used to rebuild San Francisco after the great 1906 earthquake and fire. The C.A. Thayer is the last survivor of that lumber fleet.

Mullins is vice president of the San Francisco National Maritime Park Association, which helps raise money for park projects like the restoration of the Thayer. It was a thrill, he said, to be aboard and raise the flag of the long-vanished company and to feel the ship move.

Alice Watts, who has worked for the maritime park, has served aboard the Thayer for 33 years. She first saw the ship when she brought her son, Christopher, then 10 years old, to spend the night aboard as part of a school program. She fell in love with historic ships.

Setting sail for love

Shawnecee Schneider, who has worked as a rigger on the Thayer and on boats around the bay, was along, too. “This is a big deal,” she said of restoring the Thayer. “This ship is totally unique and part of our history.”

She has another reason to be fond of the Thayer. “I fell in love on this ship,” she said. She was working on the ship one day, and a handsome young man named Mike Leslie came along. And now, “he’s my boyfriend.”

Some people just love old ships. “Look at that,” said Bob Hansen, who watched the tugs move the ship gently into the Hyde Street Pier. “It’s something right out of the past.”

Hansen, who runs a nonprofit organization that helps fund museum projects, called the Thayer “one of the hidden jewels in the crown of the nation’s national parks.”

Carl Nolte is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: cnolte@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @carlnoltesf


C.A. Thayer


Schooner C.A. THAYER Moves to Alameda

October 6. 2015 – San Francisco, CA – The 1895 lumber schooner C.A. Thayer’s was moved from her berth at the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park’s Hyde Steet Pier to the Bay Ship and Yacht shipyard in Alameda on Thursday, October 15. The ship was moved to facilitate the stepping of three new masts that are being fabricated at the shipyard. This is the final step in a comprehensive restoration project. After her masts are stepped, the National Historic Landmark vessel will return to the Park where National Park Service riggers will bend on a new running rigging and make her sail-ready to mark the National Park Service’s 2016 Centennial year.

“Thayer is at an exciting time in her life,” said Historic Ship Rigger Courtney Andersen, leader of the Thayer rigging project. “For the first time since about 1912 she will have a rig that her builder would recognize as his own.”

C.A. Thayer’s builder, Hans Bendixsen, designed the vessel without drawings, scaling her dimensions from a half-hull model, for the E.K. Wood Lumber Company of San Francisco. The 219-foot schooner spent the early years of her career carrying Douglas fir lumber from the Wood Company mill at Grays Harbor, Washington, to San Francisco and Southern California, with occasional longer trips to Mexico and the Pacific Islands.

Andersen’s research into Thayer’s historic rig began in 2010, and took him deep into the Park Research Center’s plan and photograph collections. Old shipyard contracts, mast bands, sail hanks, and corner rings also helped create the schooner’s new rigging plan.

After Thayer returns to Hyde Street Pier in early 2016, the public will get to watch the Park’s professional riggers and volunteers complete tuning and tensioning, rattling down, and then rigging her spars and running gear.

“Saving C.A. Thayer not only preserves an important, physical piece of American history, it stewards a raft of traditional shipbuilding skills and crafts,” said Park Superintendent Kevin Hendricks. “And the timing is perfect to show the fourth graders (and their families) visiting us as part of the Every Kid in a Park Centennial initiative what life was like for the men and women who built this country.”

San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park is located at the west end of Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco. The park includes the fleet of historic vessels, Visitor Center, Museum, Research Center, and Aquatic Park Historic District. For more information, please call 415-447-5000 or at www.nps.gov/safr,

This report was prepared from materials provided by the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park.




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