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Four hours before the mast: on San Francisco Bay, sail a ketch, sing a chantey or admire flotillas of tall ships.

"Ready the halyard," barks Captain Micah Faust Allnut, "and haul away." Alongside several passengers, I spring into action, pulling hard on coarse ropes we've learned to call lines, and together we raise the topsail on the 103-foot ketch Hawaiian Chieftain. "Now you'll see this ship really move," says Faust Allnut, gazing up at the red and white sails.

The waters of San Francisco Bay, so placid and blue early this morning, have turned choppy and gray as we bound out past the Golden Gate Bridge. The wind tears at my jacket and sings in the rigging of the tall ship. For a moment, the ship slows and leans heavily, straining against the tide. Then the topsail fills, and we tack and head back under the rust red bridge.

Now we're racing, gliding past the San Francisco waterfront with a sea lion porpoising alongside. And I'm thinking how lucky we passengers are to get to help sail a tall ship--even if it's only for a morning trip.

The Hawaiian Chieftain is not the only way you can sample a sailor's life on San Francisco Bay. The city is hosting the International Tall Ships Challenge races. This autumn is also your last chance--for a while--to tour the wonderful 1895 schooner C.A. Thayer.

A maritime mix

It's fitting that the Hawaiian Chieftain sails San Francisco Bay regularly: A square-rigged topsail ketch, her rigging and hull shape are reminiscent of trading vessels that sailed along the West Coast in the 18th century. But in other ways the Chieftain is a thoroughly modern vessel: she was built in Hawaii in 1988. And while she's trimmed in mahogany and teak above decks, her hull is made of steel, and she's loaded with modern equipment (including a global positioning system).

On the "four-hour adventure sailing trip" offered on Saturday mornings, passengers are encouraged to help sail the vessel--a great way to gain new respect for tall-masted vessels, and those who sail them.

There are plenty of other graceful ships to admire--close up--on San Francisco Bay In late August and early September, the city hosts the International Tall Ships Challenge Race Series 2002, an awesome gathering of more than 50 ships that you can tour or join for a cruise later in the month. Nearby, the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park is home to the West Coast's largest gathering of historic ships, docked at the Hyde Street Pier. Wandering past the 1886 square-rigger Balclutha, the 1895 schooner C.A. Thayer, and the 1890 steam ferryboat Eureka (where scenes from TV's Nash Bridges were filmed), you can almost picture what life was like for a 19th-century sailor. Here on the pier, you can learn to tie a sailor's knot, pitch in on restoration, even join a sailing class. Once a month, you can climb down into the hold of the Balclutha and listen to old sea chanteys.

The billow of a white sail, the gleam of a polished brass compass--there's romance in these old ships. Alas, sometimes there's also dry rot. One of the park's most beloved--and endangered--vessels is the Thayer, in dire need of repair. Take a tour of her soon, because in late fall or winter, she will head into dry dock for restoration work that could take years.

But if you truly want to taste life on a tall-masted sailing ship, there's no better experience than pitching in aboard a vessel like the Hawaiian Ghieftain. "A tall ship can be like a beautiful but headstrong filly: a challenge to handle, but an awful lot of fun," notes Faust Allnut.

RELATED ARTICLE: Maritime planner


The Hawaiian Chieftain offers Saturday adventure sails ($45); for a more relaxing voyage, try sunset sails (Wed-Fri; from $35) or Sunday brunch sails ($50). Sep 21-Oct 27. Marina Plaza Harbor, Sausalito; (415) 331-3214 or www.

International Tall Ships Challenge Race Series 2002. The tall ships visit San Francisco Bay August 28 through September 2. More than 50 tall ships are expected, including the schooner Cailfornian, the Clipper Patricia from Honduras, and the Europa from the Netherlands, Activities include tours of the tall ships, daily sails, and crew competitions (rowing, treasure hunts). Later, you can join some tall ships on voyages to Los Angeles. Ships at Piers 27, 35, 45, Scoma's Pier, and Pier 40/Pac Bell Park. Sail San Francisco! 2002: (415) 522-9903 or

Pier and park

San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park. At Hyde Street Pier, tour ships, enjoy music and craft programs, or try your hand at boatbuilding or knot tying. Also part of the park is the Maritime Museum, a streamline-moderne structure built in the 1930s. Hyde and Jefferson Streets, San Francisco. Hyde Street Pier: 9:30-5:30 daily; $6. Maritime Museum: 10-S daily; free. (415) 561-7100 or

Living history

A Day in the Life: 1901. At Hyde Street Pier, watch a living-history event in which docents are dressed as the captain and his wife and the crew raises Balclutha's sail. 10-4, second Saturday of each month.

Fall Sea Music Concert Series. Professional musicians perform aboard the Balclutha. Concerts Sep-Dec; $12. Reservations required. (415) 561-6662.

Chantey Sing. Listen or sing along to sailor songs. 8 P.M. first Saturdays; free. Reservations required. (415) 556-6435.
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Author:Finnegan, Lora J.
Date:Sep 1, 2002
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