Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Californian pulls into Santa Barbara Harbor


Two towering masts trimmed with neatly tucked white sails rise high above the Santa Barbara Harbor, a clear sign that the tall ship Californian is making a port call.
The 141-foot topsail schooner, designated as the official tall ship of California, is docked in the harbor through Friday for a brief respite from a six-week trek up the coast to San Francisco from San Diego.

“It’s a good stop point for us,” Capt. Chuck McGohey said, explaining that his crew will be able to take on additional fuel and provisions before rounding Point Conception. “…Once you go around the point, [seas] can get a little rougher.”
Sailing fanatics and curious visitors alike will have a chance to get a closer look at the 1840s replica Thursday and Friday, when officials open it up to dockside tours with admission to the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum.
“It’s a piece of California history coming to the Santa Barbara Harbor,” said Greg Gorga, director of development for the museum.
Workers built the Californian in 1984 to resemble the 1847 Revenue Cutter C.W. Lawrence, a precursor to the Coast Guard that patrolled the coast of California during the gold rush — collecting tariffs and maintaining law and order.
In 1915, the Revenue Cutter Service merged with four other maritime agencies to form the Coast Guard.
Designed with speed in mind, the 130-ton Californian carries nine sails with a total of 7,000 square feet of canvas. The tall ship launched for the Olympics in Los Angeles and became the state’s official tall ship in 2003.
With a 94-foot deck and a 24-foot beam (width), the Californian is a stately vessel that requires plenty of maintenance. In San Diego, a crew of roughly 120 volunteers, along with docents, maintains the ship.
“We rely extensively on the volunteer force at the museum,” Capt. McGohey said. “Without the volunteers, this ship would not be sailing.”
Since being donated to the Maritime Museum of San Diego six years ago, it has largely served an educational purpose, offering class tours and dockside visits.
“It’s a big kick for them,” Capt. McGohey said of the children who come aboard throughout the year.
Of particular interest is a set of four six-pound guns, the largest and loudest guns carried by any tall ship on the West Coast.
Cast in brass and sleeved in steel, the guns weigh more than 700 pounds each. In the 1800s, they would have been used to fire a variety of shot, including round shot to smash hulls, canister shot to take out crew members, and bar shot to shred through sails and rigging.
While a two-pound charge could propel round shot nearly a mile, these days deckhands only use half-pound black powder blanks, which are still dangerous and make plenty of noise.
And while the Californian currently boasts four such guns, deckhand Scott Baldwin offered a bit of history about two guns that used to grace the decks of the historical vessel.
A foundation that owned the ship prior to its donation to the museum had run into financial trouble, he said, and sold several of the guns off at some point. One sits on Stearns Wharf and the other is rumored to be in the front yard of a home in Santa Barbara.
Baldwin said the crew often plots how to steal back their missing guns when the ship sails into Santa Barbara.
“The plotting usually involves a lot of beer drinking and drawing on the back of napkins,” he said with a grin, adding that it never advances beyond the extensive planning stage.
In addition to climbing into the rigging, which stretches to the top of the 100-foot masts, the deckhands plan to fire off a few blanks during their evening sail on Thursday.
Gorga said tickets for the sail have been sold out, but added that he hopes to draw the Californian back to Santa Barbara waters in October when the Spirit of Dana Point is in town.
For now, visitors will have to settle for a dockside tour, which run from noon to 4 p.m. Thursday and Friday. Admission to the museum, which includes the tour, is $7 for adults, $4 for seniors, students and youth, and $2 for children aged 1 to 5.
More information on the tours and the Californian is available by calling 962-8404, ext. 115.
Capt. McGohey plans to leave the harbor by this weekend, heading north for stops in Monterey and Half Moon Bay, weather permitting, before heading on to a tall ship festival in San Francisco later this month.

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