Tall Ships of San Francisco
Maritime History and Model Ships by Steve Priske ~ Shipwright - Historian

While the Clipper ship Western Shore would be the sweetheart of the San Francisco fleet of Captain Asa Simpson, he found the Barkentine ships rig the most useful for transporting deck loads of lumber. A prefect example of this is the Gardiner City a three masted Barkentine, Captain Simpson had built in 1889. She was 169’ feet on the keel about 185’ long on the deck and originally built as a four masted Schooner. A few years after being launched the Gardiner City was re-rigged as a three-masted Barkentine. One morning in 1911 while bound up the coast from San Francisco, she met the schooner Alert bound for Hawaii. A few minutes later the Alert's bowsprit fowled the fore rigging of the Barkentine and her anchor raked the starboard side of the Gardiner City cutting every shroud on the foremast. The crew managed to jury rig and limp back to San Francisco where the ship was laid up, while the Alert continued on to Honolulu.


The beautiful Willie R. Hume launched in 1890 for the Simpson Lumber Company of San Francisco, is here dockside at Coos Bay, Oregon where she is loading lumber for a voyage to Australia. Note the ships boat suspended in the rigging while the decks are loaded.


The handsome 3 masted Barkentine Gardiner City was built by John Kruse in 1889. She was named after a city on Oregon’s Umpqua River, where her owner, Captain Simpson had a lumber mill. The Gardiner City measured 169’ on the keel with registered at 475 gross tons and was painted white after her namesake, as Captain Simpson had all building at GARDINER painted white, so she was also known as White City.

Having started his lumber empire around 1855, Captain Simpson soon realized there was a lucrative market for lumber overseas, and thus launched a series of ships that would average 200 feet overall in length, and represent the finest clipper type hulls ever built. A wonderful example can be found in the Willie R. Hume, the first 4 masted Barkentine built on the west coast. She was built by John Kruse and launched in 1890; the ‘Hume’ measured 183‘ on the keel, 202’ overall and had the lines of the world’s finest clippers. The Willie R. Hume was a frequent sight at San Francisco and San Pedro waterfronts until sold to Mexican owners in 1911. Another first was launched in 1886, the four masted Schooner, Novelty. She was the world’s first 4 masted bald head Schooner, and sported no bow sprit when launched, leading the a local paper to comment; .....“she should have been called Oddity, instead of Novelty.” Later a short bow sprit would be added and the Novelty would go on to be the first four masted schooner to circumnavigate the globe. In 1907, the Novelty would be lost in a deep fog bank, stranding on the Oregon sand dunes, her crew, Captain and family walking ashore.


In 1911 the Gardiner City had a mid-ocean collision with the schooner Alert, on her way to Hawaii. Jury rigged she limped back to San Francisco where she was laid up for a few months. With the ship laid up on the bay, here we see a crew removing usable blocks and tackle.


The four masted schooner Novelty was built and operated by Captain Asa Meade Simpson for his San Francisco based lumber business. Launched in 1886, the Novelty sailed the world’s oceans, until 1907 when she ran aground on the Oregon sand dunes. The Novelty was the world’s first four masted bald head schooner.


The four masted Schooner Alumna was launched from the Simpson Brothers shipyard at Coos Bay, Oregon c.1901. She would operate as a blue water lumber ship, carrying cargoes from her home port of San Francisco to all points on the globe. Following the implementation of Prohibition the Alumna would be bought by the Pilsner Brewing Company of Ketchikan, Alaska. Historical accounts show locals would often comment: “Let’s go out to the Alumna, and have a Schooner of Beer” thus immortalizing the term.


Ships crew list from a journey of the four masted Schooner Alumna.
Route from San Francisco to Melbourne.


Mechanics and Master of the Yard C. 1890.

A typical crew required to build a 200 foot long tall ship on the American frontier in 1890 was about 25 workmen. Contrary to popular belief, these men were not referred to as shipwrights (a 20th Century term), rather a 19th Century man who could cut, and joiner wood was called a “Mechanic”. This photo made at the Simpson shipyard on Oregon’s Coos Bay, shows about 25 Mechanics, Master of the Yard Emil Heuckendorff (in top hat) and the yard horse ‘Ol Joe. Most all shipyards of the 1800’s had a large work horse that could help haul timbers into place.


Emil Heuckendorff could claim the largest three masted Barkentine built on the U.S. west coast, when he launched the Joseph L. Eviston in 1900. The clipper type hulled ship measured 190’ on the keel, over 205’ on the deck and was registered at 755 g.t. In this highly detailed image she is dockside in San Francisco c.1901.

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