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

Sugar Ships of San Francisco c.1895-1920


The 899 ton, four masted Schooner Honoipu, and her identical twin Muriel, were built at Alameda by Hay & Wright shipbuilders in 1898 and 1895 respectively. These ships would be operated by Hind, Rolph Company of San Francisco, engaged in the South Pacific trades. These Schooners along with several other larger four masted Schooners and Barkentines would help pioneer the lucrative sugar trade from Hawaii to California’s C&H refiners near San Francisco. Historic newspaper accounts often refer to this unusual tall ship fleet as being, ‘snow white’ and well maintained.


This account details one of the longest tall ship races in the history of the Pacific. Appearing in a San Francisco newspaper c.1898 the story read: Two of the handsomest and fastest four-masted American schooners afloat are now engaged in an interesting ocean race. They left San Francisco within twenty-four hours of each other and are to load lumber at Tacoma for Sydney, N.S.W. From Australia they are to take coal to Hawaii, and from Honolulu will bring sugar to San Francisco. Both vessels are owned by Hind, Rolph & Co. of this city, and the Captain of the losing vessel is to pay for a champagne dinner for the employes of the firm and crew of the winning ship, on the return of his vessel to San Francisco. See the links on Sugar Ships Page 2 for a full account of this historic tall ship race!


The four masted Barkentine Puako was one of three nearly identical ships built by William A. Boole & Son at their Oakland shipyard c.1901 - 1902, for Hind, Rolph & Co. She measured 220‘ at w.l. and was registered at 1084 g.t. The Barkentines; Puako, Lahina, KoKo Head, Mahukona and Makaweli joined their smaller four masted Schooner siblings; Honoipu, Muriel, John G. North and Georgette, shipping raw sugar cane from Hawaii to the C&H processing facilities at Crockett, California near San Francisco c.1895-1920.


The Sugar Ship KoKo Head is here seen being launched from the Boole & Son, shipyard at Oakland c.1902. On a passage from Manila to Singapore with coal, the cargo took fire through spontaneous combustion, and the Koko Head had to be abandoned on April 29, 1918, 180 miles southwest of Java. The crew spent a week in the boats, with days so hot a man could row only half an hour at a stretch, and nights so cold it was hard to keep from freezing. The boats were separated the night before land was sighted; the next day the mate's boat found land and the party went ashore. The first living thing they saw was a tiger, whereupon they put back to sea and rowed till the came to a lighthouse. Here they found the captain's boat, and all hands were, eventually sent to Singapore by the American consul.


Although retired from a long career at sea, following a post W.W. I call for experienced sea Captains, Captain Helms came out of retirement and Commanded the Puako from 1919 - 1926. Captain Helms wife, Mary Catherine Williams Helms, would accompany him on all his journey’s, which included ports of call at: Sydney, Honolulu, South Africa and Canada. Other Masters of the Puako included: Captain Peterson and Captain Pearson.


In this 1919 photo we see the Puako loading at Sydney, Australia for San Francisco. Note the ships rakish ‘Extreme Clipper’ like bows and her graceful ‘yacht’ like elliptical stern. For a full history and to see a ship model being built of the Barkentine Puako, see link on Sugar Ship Page 2.


Below is some additional history sent me by the descendants of the Puako’s builder Boole & Sons, and by a descendant of Captain Helms, a former Master of the Puako.

My great-grandfather was William A. Boole, a Nova Scotian who arrived in San Francisco in 1853 with Capt. George Middlemas. William was raised near the McKay family, came with his family to the New York waterfront about the same time as Donald. Donald married William's sister Albenia and they remained on the East coast while William returned to Nova Scotia, married Barbara Ann Bent and came to San Francisco. William and Capt. Middlemas did ship repair in San Francisco, opened his shipyard in Oakland where he apparently built the first "marine railway" and drydock, one of the first on the west coast. He also built a series of four-masted barkentines (the Puako, Koko Head, Lahaina and Makewili, probably all for the Rolphs).

Brad Lundborg
Healdsburg CA


The Puako was one of three dimensionally identical ships. The Puako, the Lahaina and the Koko Head. These are places in Hawaii. Puako translated to English is the flower of the sugar cane. I don't know if they ever dealt in the sugar trade, but it is my understanding that they were built with that trade in mind. Either George Hind or James Rolph owned property in Hawaii.

She and two sister ships were built in 1902 in Oakland California by William A. Boole & Son for the Hind Rolph Co. Of San Francisco.

My Grandfather Charles E. Hind, following retirement from the sea, became Master of the Puako from 1919-1926 and my Grandmother sailed with him during those years To So Africa, Australia, Hawaii and Canada.

Walt Bulski
Davis, California

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