If you want to use the D Street bridge on a Friday afternoon, you are going to run the risk of getting stuck in traffic. With boaters sailing in from all over the west coast, it is not unusual to see the bridge raised at least once an hour for most of the afternoon. Personally, I love living in a town with a live draw bridge. I don’t mind sitting in traffic if it means that the heritage of our hometown is being kept alive. I am equally thrilled to once again have the opportunity to sit in traffic while waiting for freight trains to work their way across Washington and D Streets.
This afternoon around 4pm I was once again sitting in line waiting for the D Street bridge to go through its hourly routine. Although I couldn’t see the boat, I saw two huge masts float by. They were so thick, and clearly fashioned out of telephone pole size trees (unlike the modern fiberglass masts) that I knew the boat had to be old. I hurried over to the Golden Eagle Shopping Center just in time to see the boat tying up at the dock. …and yes, I call them all “boats,” no matter how big they are.
It ends up that there were actually two boats, both sailed up to Petaluma from the San Francisco Maritime National Park. If you didn’t know what it was all these years, the SFMNP is that big mess of old boats that you can see docked just west of Fisherman’s Wharf. I have been visiting it ever since I was a boy and always find new and interesting things to explore whenever I am there.
The Alma is a scooner scow, and looks a lot more like a big shoebox with masts, than a sailboat. She dates back to 1891, and in 1988 was designated a National Historic Landmark. She operated here in the Bay Area moving all sorts of cargo, from hay and lumber to salt. She even spent 30 years as an oyster shell dredger, hauling cargo right here to Petaluma. The oyster shells were ground down and fed to the huge chicken population that once dotted our countryside.
The Grace Quan is a “shrimp junk” and is historic in her own way. Although rather young (built in 2003) a lot of history is built into her elegant lines. She was based and built from historic photos of the shrimp junks of the S.F. Bay Area that were owned and operated by the Chinese during the last half of the 1800’s. The Grace Quan was handbuilt at China Camp State Park, which sits on the bay, east of San Rafael. Once a thriving shrimping village (yes, we used to have shrimp right here in the Bay Area) it is now open to the public for hiking, biking, boating, picnicking, and camping.
According to the Alma’s first mate, both boats will be open to the public tomorrow only, so don’t miss your chance to tour these two uniquely historic vessels. I can guarantee that the lines, the parking, and the cost (it’s free), will be far more tolerable than a venture to the city for Fleet Week. Sure, there is no airshow, but this is a rare opportunity to get up close to a part of Bay Area boating history. And with the money you save by avoiding Fleet Week, you can afford to take the family out for lunch at one of the many great downtown restaurants.
If you are looking for a great way to see the Petaluma River, check out the river tours offered by Friends of the Petaluma River (www.friendsofthepetalumariver.org). This organization not only raises awareness about or vast tidal river but also offers one heck of a river tour. I was lucky enough to be invited on one last year and these folks know how to do it up right. Sit back and enjoy a cocktail while they regale you with interesting history and facts about our river. And don’t miss out on tasting the pickleweed. I’m still trying to think up a way of incorporating it into one of my home recipes.
If you are looking for a great lunch, at a restaurant with a great patio (it is going to be nice this weekend), I highly recommend Riverfront Bistro. They are located in the old JM Rosens/Flippers location on the river turning basin, and are a stone’s throw from the two boats you will be visiting. Park in the Golden Eagle Shopping Center, visit the boats, and then head over to Riverfront for a great pastrami sandwich or some phenomenal clam chowder. Sammy (the owner) has been in the business a long time, and knows his way around a lunch menu. (Their dinners are good too.) I recall correctly, nothing on the lunch menu is over $9 and don’t miss their awesome handcut, twice cooked french fries and some best cole slaw I have had in a while. (Don’t forget to tell them that Houston sent you.)