San Diego is known for lots of things but on my recent visit, it was all about the boats. Acres of pleasure yachts and sailboats. America’s Cup racers. Historic naval vessels from three countries.
Visitors to this California town can walk along the sea wall admiring these beauties from yesterday and today. Or better yet, climb aboard!
If you’re as hooked on boats as I am you’ll need plenty of time. It took the hours to wander through and around the dozen or so boats of the Maritime Museum of San Diego.
I saved the Star of India for last since this 150-year-old vessel seemed to be the crown jewel of this eclectic fleet. Honestly I don’t know which boat was most fun.
Probably the HMS Surprise. A fan of Patrick O’Brian’s historical sailing novels and the movie Master and Commander with Russell Crowe as Capt. Jack Aubrey, I couldn’t wait to see this one. She is impressive. Built from the plans for the HMS Rose, this boat was first a training ship for tall ship crews. More recently she served as the ship of Captain Aubrey as well as Jack Sparrow’s nemesis Barbarossa in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. Below take a look at the captain’s quarters and imagine the crew waiting out the doldrums in the South Seas.
Two submarines are also on view: a Soviet Cold War era B-39 and the USS Dolphin. As interesting (and claustrophobic) as they are, I found myself more drawn to the sailing ships. Unfortunately, you can only look on from the deck at the America’s Cup boats, including Dennis Conner’s Stars&Stripes (out sailing when I visited, darn it), the Abracadabra and the America. But you can prowl around the Medea, an elegant 1904 steam yacht. They don’t make ’em like this anymore.
The Berkeley is huge. And this 1898 ferry boat serves as the exhibit space for the museum. A tuna boat chapel caught my eye. This quaint tribute to faith is a replica of the chapels that fishermen built on their tuna boats. Exhibits on the War of 1812: the Pacific Perspective, and a nautical artist Joe Duncan Gleason as well as the ferry boat itself and a gift shop made this well worth seeing. I didn’t know until later that this boat evacuated San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake.
The Star of India truly is the star of the collection. More than 200 feet long this their-masted bark has a wonderful story to tells it evolved from a cargo ship to an emigrant ship, to a cargo ship again. She was destined for the ship breakers until the last second. Thank goodness she’s here in San Diego. So much to explore here.
Next stop, USS Midway
After a morning in the maritime past, you’d think I’d had enough boats. But that great ship of gray a little farther south on the sea wall was my next destination. After lunch, of course. My feet needed a rest. You climb up and down and all around on these boats.
At the USS Midway Museum ticket office, they advise visitors to plan on spending three hours on the aircraft carrier. If you arrive late, get your ticket stamped so you can visit again the following day.
This is a floating city and you’ll want to take the time to ink spect the sea men’s quarters, and the admiral’s. you’ll want to see the antique computer,radio room and galleys. And be sure to take the tour of the island, the tower where the crew is looking after ship and aircraft. And then there’s the flight deck and the hangar deck where you can take a look at helicopters and fighter jets. Personally, I was thrilled to see the helicopter that scooped up the Apollo astronauts after they returned to earth from their moon missions.
There really is so much to see, all of it improved by the explanations and recollections of the docents in their yellow caps. Some served on the ship. All of them are knowledgeable and eager to share what they know. And that makes this all the more enjoyable.
© Text and photos Mary K. Tilghman