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Volunteering to restore historic ships in San Francisco.

Volunteering to restore historic ships in San Francisco

The nine-vessel fleet of the National Maritime Museum in San Francisco is the country's largest floating collection of historic ships. But insufficient funding for maintenance has let some of the ships slip into such bad shape that they're almost beyond reclamation. You can volunteer to lend a hand in the effort to restore three of them and maintain a fourth.

Last year, to prevent further damage, a breakwater was built to protect the ships anchored at the Hyde Street Pier. The Balclutha, now at Pier 43 1/2, is scheduled to be moved here soon.

And this year, to boost restoration funding, admission fees will be charged for touring the Hyde Street Pier ships ($2.50, free for ages under 12 and over 65). One hope is that the National Maritime Museum can be established as a new national historic park separate from Golden Gate National Recreation Area; the San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park Act of 1987 is before Congress now. With its own budget, the museum would stand a better chance of getting the money it needs (estimated restoration costs are $12 to $19 million).

How to get involved

Volunteers are at work on the Wapama-- at 580 tons, the biggest of the three--the paddle-wheel tug Eppleton Hall, and the steel-hulled tug Hercules. Saturday work parties rotate: on April 2 they'll be on the Eppleton Hall, on April 9 the Hercules, on April 16 the Wapama, and so on throughout the year.

For more information, telephone the project coordinator at (415) 332-8409.

You don't need to bring tools or have any special work skills; just wear work clothes--and bring your own lunch. You may choose to join the deck crew or the "black gang" (a historical name for engine-room workers, who were usually covered with grease). You'll be paired each day with a more experienced volunteer. Here's where you can join, and what you'll be doing:

Wapama (1915) . . . last of the old wooden coastal steamers

Of some 225 wooden passenger and freight steamers that plied the West Coast, the Wapama is the only survivor; it was nearly scrapped before being saved in 1956. Now you'll find it behind the Bay Model, 2100 Bridgeway, Sausalito.

The job of restoration is enormous; dry rot is so advanced that the 216-foot-long vessel had to be dry-docked. Shipkeeper Michael Harrington supervises volunteers in scraping paint, replacing planks, and restoring cabins. The ship is also open for guided tours; call (415) 556-2904.

Eppleton Hall (1914) . . . a rare paddle-wheel steam tug from the River Tyne

Though far from its workday surroundings on Britain's River Tyne, the Eppleton Hall is similar to the tugs that serviced the Bay during the gold rush. Found and restored in England, it was sound enough to steam here under its own power in the 1960s, but it's been allowed to decay.

You'll find it at the Hyde Street Pier off Jefferson Street in San Francisco. Volunteers caulk decks and clean out rust.

Hercules (1907) . . . triple-expansion steam tug, well known on the Bay

Hercules is moored at Fort Mason's Pier 1, San Francisco. Work parties will be trying to restore this tug to operating condition. You'll scrape paint, clean pipes and steam fittings, do carpentry.

Jeremiah O'Brien (1943) . . . last unaltered World War II Liberty ship

Don't forget the Jeremiah O'Brien. Largely restored, it still needs volunteers for ongoing maintenance; call (415) 441-3101. Moored at Fort Mason's Pier 3, it's open--for work or touring--from 9 to 3 daily; requested donation is $2, $1 for seniors and ages under 12. From 9 to 3 on both days of the third weekend of every month, the engines roar to life for a "steam up" open house ($3 and $2).

The National Maritime Museum, at Polk and Beach streets, is open 10 to 5 daily. Programs on West Coast maritime history run at 1:15 and 3 daily, followed by tours of exhibits. For admission or other information, call (415) 556-3002.

Instead of time, you may want to contribute money to help the efforts. Send checks to National Maritime Museum Association, Presidio of San Francisco, Building 275, Crissy Field, San Francisco 94129.

Photo: High and dry-docked, Wapama wears a protective wrap around her stern

Photo: Chiseling out dry-rotted planks, volunteer works on one of Wapama's aft bulkheads

Photo: In the engine room, more volunteers chip away to remove rust on donkey boiler

Photo: Paddle-wheel steamer Eppleton Hall rides at anchor off Hyde Street Pier; fresh lettering indicates start of restoration
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Date:Apr 1, 1988
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