A $1m plus contract was recently awarded by the San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park to Bay Ship & Yacht Co. of Alameda for the restoration of the historic three-masted, steel-hulled, square-rigged sailing ship, Balclutha. Known locally as the National Maritime Museum, the park is operated by the National Park Service.
Fred Shepherd, facility coordinator for the park, which is located adjacent to San Francisco's Fishermen's Wharf, points out that the ship is a star attraction at the park, which has almost 1 million visitors per year. The three-masted sailing ship with a riveted steel-hull was built in 1886 in Glascow, Scotland, for carrying bulk cargos, such as coal and grain, between Europe and the West Coast of North America. As such, she rounded treacherous Cape Horn at the southern tip of South America some 17 times before being transferred to the Alaskan and the Hawaiian trade. She also appeared in the film, Mutiny on the Bounty.
On a recent calm Winter day, the Balclutha was gently nudged by two tugs of Westar Marine Services from the Hyde Street Pier of the National Maritime Museum and slowly towed across the bay and into the 400 ft long floating drydock at Bay Ship & Yacht's shipyard along the Alameda estuary. As the water was pumped from the drydock, the entire ship, hull and all, could be seen in her full magnificence. Shipyard general manager, Bill Elliott, commented, "She is in an amazing condition for a ship that was built more than 120 years ago. Nevertheless, we did a complete ultrasonic testing of the entire hull below the waterline, followed by needed sandblasting, steel repair, and some plate replacement. Then, we painted the entire hull below the waterline. Taking a look at her in the drydock, she is an overwhelming sight to behold."
The ship is expected to be in drydock for three weeks while hull repairs are being made, and then will dock alongside the shipyard's main pier for several months of topside work. "There are 12 major items of required repair work, explained Shepherd of the National Park Service. They include calking major portions of some of the leaky decks, removing the yard arms from the masts for sand-blasting, inspection, and maintenance work, repairing fittings in the rigging, painting the main mast, and a lot more. She will be "ship shape" by the time that all of that work has been completed, said Shepherd.
By Spring, tugs will arrive at the Bay Ship & Yacht shipyard and gently nudge the 122-year old ship, in tip-top shape, back across the bay to the National Maritime Museum's Hyde Street Pier in San Francisco, ready for inspection by thousands of more visitors, curious about their national maritime heritage.
Bay Ship & Yacht operates one of the San Francisco Bay Area's major shipyards, capable of providing a complete range of drydocking, maintenance, and alteration services for small to medium-sized steel, aluminum, and wooden commercial vessels and yachts up to 400 ft, as well as ships of the US Coast Guard, Army, Navy, and Maritime Administration. The yard has a 400 ft floating drydock, 1000 ft of warfage, and a 1200 ton Syncrolift for raising ships onto dry land maintenance berths. In addition, the yard has specialized steel and aluminum fabrication shops, a machine shop, pipe shop, paint shop, joiner shop, and its own propeller shop. Bay Ship & Yacht employs more than 250 skilled craftsmen.