San Francisco’s Salty Old Waterfront

The visitor center at the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park offers visitors a glimpse into a salty past. Most visitors to San Francisco’s northern shore only see a tsunami of stores that sell trinkets and bobbles; however, the curious will find ‘ The Waterfront’ exhibit to offer a rich story.

The Waterfront is not just an exhibit; it is an experience of more than 150 years in the making. You can discover a time before European settlement, learn about how the Gold Rush shaped San Francisco, hear voices of sailors in a Barbary Coast saloon, and even see lumber being transported over your head as a ship delivers its cargo. The exhibits also include fishing boats, actual equipment and several hundred artifacts woven throughout the walk. A very realistic looking street fish market impressed my young daughter.

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Afterward, make a short walk across the street to explore the historic sailing ships of the Hyde Street Pier. Visiting the ships will cost you a little, but it is far more valuable than what is sold in most of the surrounding tourist stores. The queen of all the historic ships on display is the Balclutha, you can get a better look with this video-

Learn more: http://www.nps.gov/safr/index.htm

A View From the Bay at San Francisco’s Fleet Week

If you ever have the opportunity to experience San Francisco’s Fleet Week, it is a blast!

I arrived with my family at the SS Jeremiah O’Brien on a Sunday morning. The O’Brien is “one of two remaining fully functional Liberty ships of the 2,710 built and launched during WW II.” At the pier, we showed our tickets, A View From the Bay at San Francisco’s Fleet Week had our backpacks briefly inspected, and we walked up the gangplank. We joined about 950 other people on-board that day to experience Fleet Week, a time during the middle of October when active military ships dock in San Francisco, California. The passengers of the O’Brien would be enjoying the events that day from the middle of San Francisco Bay.

About a quarter of the passengers wore caps identifying they had served in the military over the years, while some caps stated, “Korean War Veteran” or “Desert Storm Veteran”, many had caps stating the names of various naval vessels.

A View From the Bay at San Francisco’s Fleet WeekAt 10 am a deep yet high pitched ‘Bhwaaahh’ and a river of steam gushed from the ship’s turret. Gigantic ropes that held the ship fast were brought aboard and a tugboat helped to pull the 441 foot long Liberty Ship from the dock. Looking over the aft of the ship I could see sheets of spray being ejected from the water every second as the massive propeller chopped through the water. We were underway.

A View From the Bay at San Francisco’s Fleet Week Our first treat that morning was seeing the Golden Gate Bridge up close. This massive structure dwarfed the O’Brien as the ship chugged under the mile-long span and out in the Pacific. After a few minutes, we turned and returned under the bridge to parallel the San Francisco waterfront. There was a definite presence of the security: police and military boats skittered quickly over the water to create a boundary area, an exclusion zone, for the aircraft to perform that had to be free of boats.

A View From the Bay at San Francisco’s Fleet Week The O’Brien was the only ship to parade in front of the waterfront that day. The day before the USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70) a supercarrier, the USS Antietam (CG-54) a guided missile cruiser, the USS Milius (DDG-69) a guided missile destroyer and a number of naval vessels, entered San Francisco Bay in a Parade of Ships with the O’Brien bringing up the back; as we skirted down A View From the Bay at San Francisco’s Fleet Week the waterfront and under the second massive bridge in the bay, the Bay Bridge, we passed many of these ships now at port. In the distance, anchored in the middle of the bay the impressive and intimidating looking supercarrier, the USS Carl Vinson. Around all of the ships were gray-colored military patrol boats protecting the perimeter of their respective vessels.

After a closer, yet still distant look at the Carl Vinson, the O’Brien chugged back under the Bay Bridge. It was time for the air show to start and within a few minutes, a tight group of sleek looking planes descended in a A View From the Bay at San Francisco’s Fleet Week tight arc over our heads and into the exclusion zone we had traversed earlier. At first, it was hard for us to view the air show but the O’Brien positioned itself between Alcatraz Island and the Bay Bridge; this location allowed us to look down the two or three-mile long ‘channel’ of where the planes would be performing.

A number of planes performed that day, too many to respectfully give credit in this short write up, but all were magnificent. Just a few a mentioned below.

A View From the Bay at San Francisco’s Fleet Week The sleek Red and White Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) Snowbirds soared overhead. These individual aircraft moved as one organism in the sky, with often only a few feet from each other. When they separated each became a unique part of the whole in performing their choreographed maneuvers. At times it appeared the planes were playing a game of chicken turning to the side at the last second as they zipped past each other.

Then came an F-18 Super Hornet. It roared overhead passing several hundred feet at times over the O’Brien. Once, it moved slowly over the water, with its nose pointed high to the sky, it seemed to hang in the air for several seconds then shot away as though catapulted away by an unseen slingshot. It disappeared into the blue… everyone looked around, we could not see it. About half a minute passed and we started to think this part of the air show had ended. It was unusually quiet…

A View From the Bay at San Francisco’s Fleet Week A thunderous and encompassing roar ripped through the air – splitting the solitude. The sound made the O’Brien shudder and scared the life out of everyone. The passengers looked up to see the gray F-18 several hundred feet overhead slicing like a great axe through the air-water vapor was rapidly condensing at the back of the wings creating a white cloud that followed the jet. In just a second or two the fighter was already distant – the white cloud now appeared to be a gigantic cone that enveloped the back of the plane – yellow and red fire spewed from the engines and the cone still seemed to grow wider. Now the thunderous sound caught up to us, the sound grew deeper, louder and could be felt in one’s chest. The plane now appeared to be halfway to the Golden Gate Bridge a distance of several miles, we still had to cover our ears because the noise was so loud. The jet pulled up and disappeared in a fog bank that seemed to appear off the ocean from nowhere.

Everyone on the O’Brien was silent.

Then someone giggled aloud, followed by others laughing, then people began to speak with exclamations of “Wow!” At that moment nine-hundred plus people on the O’Brien were smiling.

A few minutes later a sudden cold wind, that must have been 30 miles an hour, hit everyone in the face and it did not let up. The Stars and Stripes that rested atop the mast had been still for much of the morning, but now the colorful banner flew straight out to the side. The fog bank on the horizon moved closer and started to blanket one of the tall towers of the Golden Gate.

A View From the Bay at San Francisco’s Fleet Week A United Airlines 747 was seen low in the north, it banked right, flew next to the Bay Bridge then between the O’Brien and San Francisco. Some laughed as to why a commercial jet was in an air show, but as this massive plane flew over us, they stopped laughing. It is one thing to see such a huge jet at the airport, but when it is directly over you…you get an appreciation for the scale and presence. The jet made three passes for the spectators, just a few hundred feet over the water, and on the last pass pulled up extremely tight climbing into the sky.

A View From the Bay at San Francisco’s Fleet WeekA sleek looking F15-E Strike Eagle dominated the sky, it too made a number of passes, rolls, dives, and maneuvers to showcase its dexterity. Again the people of the O’Brien loved the show.

The fog bank was still closing in, hid many of the ships and sailboats that were on the bay water. The wind grew still more intense. People of the O’Brien A View From the Bay at San Francisco’s Fleet Week sought shelter behind walls and side rails to shield them from the wind. Most were not prepared for the sudden change in weather.

The massive Cargo Support Plane (I believe a C-117) for the Blue Angels passed nearby, it made several passes to introduce the highly-skilled flight team, but it was obvious the fog was going to be a problem. The fog now completely covered the massive Golden Gate Bridge and had engulfed half of the area in which the Blue Angels were to perform.

As the support plane left a deep ‘sshhhoooo’ of engines announced the Blue Angles as they flew past. The sleek blue and gold planes made multiple passes of the area traveling in wide circles, apparently studying the foggy theater of activity before deciding on a plan of action. Then they returned and in a tight formation made a slow and respectful pass between the waterfront packed with spectators and the O’Brien before leaving. The air show had concluded.

The inability to see was a safety issue not only for the pilots but for the public. Everyone on board the O’Brien was sad to see the Blue Angles leave early, but no one spoke badly about their decision, everyone understood that safety was paramount.

As the show ended the exclusion zone on the water was no longer needed, a thousand sailboats and small vessels moved in every direction like water striders moving in all directions across the San Francisco Bay to return home. That alone was an amazing sight.

A View From the Bay at San Francisco’s Fleet Week The O’Brien spent the next thirty minutes slowly maneuvering back to its berth. The volunteer deckhands wrestled giant sized and intertwined ropes to secure the ship. After fifteen minutes or so the gangplank went down and we disembarked.

It had been a fantastic day on a historic WW II ship, being in the company of so many who have served their country over the decades, while seeing some amazing aircraft piloted by very skilled pilots. I was very thankful for that day and having the opportunity to enjoy it with my family in a free country.

To those reading this who have served, or are serving in the U.S. armed forces, “Thank you for your service.”

Reference:
SS Jeremiah O’Brien website.

Learn More:
http://www.ssjeremiahobrien.org
http://www.fleetweek.us

Exploring the Achensee of Tirol by Train, Trail, and Ship

The Achensee (ah-khen-say) is a beautiful natural lake nestled in the mountains of Tirol, Austria. The lake is sizable being 1 km wide and 9.5 km in length. It was to this lake that we traveled for a day trip.

The Austrian countryside sped past our window as the modern, aerodynamic train shot down rails of seamless steel. After a quiet, thirty minutes ride from Innsbruck, we departed at the Jenbach Bahnhof (Jenbach Train station) and proceeded only a few steps to the waiting Achenseebahn (Achensee train).

AchenseebahnHere stood a mechanized anachronism; an old-time, coal-burning, steam engine. It traveled on a narrow gauge rail, yet the engine was surprisingly large. The engine was oily, smelled of grease and belched and hissed steam. Inside the engineer’s cockpit, a messy pile of coal was sprawled across the metal floor. Along the sides of the machine were giant metallic wheels which supported the steam engine’s carriage. Underneath and between the wheels was a giant gear – a third rail – this was used by the train for traversing steep gradients.

We boarded one of two open-sided passenger cars. An antiquated latch locked a mini-door and kept several of us pinned in our row. A plaque on the wall stated the car was built in 1889 for Kaiser und König (Emperor and King).

The steam engine’s whistle was activated and a long high-pitched wail announced the start of the journey, with a small chug the behemoth came to life. The chugs grew with intensity and the entire train lurched forward as the engine pushed the cars uphill. Just one minute into the trip the tracks became steep and the third rail was activated, a clank-clank-clank of the greased metal gear could be heard.

AchenseebahnGeysers of dark smoke belched from the engine’s stack, the plumes repeated faster and faster as the machine’s power came to full strength. An engineer or an assistant shoveled coal into the engine’s furnace to feed the fiery beast. The burning coal boiled water and produced steam, this in-turn powered gears that moved the locomotive ever further up the hill.

The cars were pushed by the engine about as fast as a person could jog; through forests, past houses, small villages, and fields. Cars would stop at crossing signals and patiently wait for the train to pass, the people inside the autos were smiling just from seeing this historic train. On occasion tourists would run to a fence and start snapping photos, people in the train would wave back. The engineer would blast the whistle to add some zest to the excitement.

Sitting in the passenger car with my arm on the railing, I noticed my outside arm was suddenly covered in ash! The great billow of dark smoke had risen over the cars and the heavier ash particles were softly raining down.

AchenseeAfter the train crossed the highest point the engine was detached from the cars, it then traveled on a parallel track to the front of the train and was re-attached. Now the engine pulled the train. We resumed our trip. After a few minutes the track curved and in the distance was a sheet of blue hidden among the trees – this was the Achensee, a great inland lake, the largest in Austria. The lake rested in a deeply carved valley surrounded by high Alpine mountains.

A jet of steam was released from the side of the engine as the train stopped just meters away from the lake, we had arrived at the Achensee. The engineer jumped out and pulled a large faucet arm over to the engine and released a great flow of water. The steam engine greedily guzzled water to replenish itself for the return trip – a trip this steam engine had made thousands of times over the past hundred years.

The lake was beautiful, and because it was easy accessibility by automobiles and buses, the lake was a tourist haven, especially along the southern and western shore of the lake where we had arrived.

We walked on a lakeside trail for about 5 kilometers before we finally passed the last of the restaurants, tour buses and a multitude of visitors. It seemed odd that so many folks who visited these areas of comfort and relaxation looked unhappy and solemn from behind their sunglasses and wide-brimmed sun hats.

Hiking at the AchenseeThe trail we were on followed the edge of this elegant lake. Once we were past the touristy area the paved pathway narrowed, then became gravel walkway, then smaller again to become a dirt footpath. The lake began to reveal itself as we walked and passed small springs and quiet pebbled beaches. At one point a waterfall burst over the edge of a precipice – from fifty feet above – and tumbled down upon the path. The force of the water was strong but this part of the trail was shielded by a tin-roofed structure that looked all the worse for wear. The falling liquid drummed loudly on the roof as we passed under it.

The trail meandered along the inlets and indented shoreline of the lake. At one point we passed a great disgorgement of stone that had slid off the mountain – the action had created a jumble of rocks that fanned into the lake – we stood at the tip of a giant landslide. The mountain above was scarred like a great wound had been inflicted upon the surface.

We had been walking for two and a half hours since we left the train and were hungry. The plan was to meet several family members at an Alm about halfway up the northwestern side of the lake. They would arrive by ferry. We met them at the Alm and ate lunch, though, afterward we wished we had not eaten, for the meal was industrial in its preparation and it was presented without emotion. The meal was a disservice both in flavor and price paid -it did not represent this beautiful area. Having said that I must add that as I left the restaurant we passed others wolfing down the same meal, they were raving about how good it tasted.

FerryWe went outside and waited for the ferry. Our return trip would be by boat rather than by shoreline.

A large ferry boat out on the lake blurted its horn. It approached and with surprising agility maneuvered up to a small dock; we boarded. Not many people were on the ferry and we had the ship mostly to ourselves. Placards inside the main cabin advertised a nighttime cruise, an attached photo showed a sparkling and illuminated vessel on a dark body of water with a setting sun over a backdrop of mountains.

The ship hugged the shoreline. Now, just offshore I could study the topography of the steep and rugged mountains; from the sharp angle of the land entering the lake, it was obvious our ship traversed over deep waters. Looking overboard and into the lake’s water, the late afternoon sun shot lances of light down into the depths. The visibility was about 9m (27 feet) or so.

The recently eaten lunch sat in my tummy like a brick and I thought that if the vessel was struck by a calamity and sank into the dark waters of the Achensee that I would sink with it, like a stone, all because of that unfortunate meal that weighed so heavily on my stomach.

Ferry on the AchenseeWithin twenty minutes the vessel covered the same distance that I had walked in about 2 and a half hours on the shoreline. It was then I realized I had not been so far away from the touristy area as I perceived myself to be, in fact, I had been in the middle of it. We docked near some hotels to gather passengers and the same solemn looking tourists I had seen earlier boarded. I guess they had eaten some terrible food too and that unhappy experience had etched itself on their faces.

In another fifteen minutes, the ship docked again and we disembarked. The Achenseebahn was quietly puffing away, waiting for us and others to board and be returned down the mountain.

The engine growled to life and we enjoyed a pleasant journey back to the train station. Everyone was tired and some of the people on the train slept, which was surprising considering the noise from the engine.

The late afternoon light provided great opportunities for photos as the train descended into the Inn Valley. In the distance, the train station and our final stop. Ten minutes later a modern, electric powered train arrived at the adjoining station and transported us back to Innsbruck in comfort.