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

Sugar Ships of San Francisco c.1895-1920


In 1900 James Rolph Jr. (Born S.F. 1869) formed a partnership with George Hind and engaged in the shipping and commission business. These gentlemen would be one of the first to field a fleet of west coast built ships designed to bring sugar cane from the Kingdom of Hawaii to the newly established California and Hawaii Sugar Company (C&H Sugar today), at the town of Crockett near San Francisco. In addition to operating a large fleet of San Francisco based tall ships in the early 1900’s, James Rolph Jr. would go on to be Mayor of San Francisco for 19 years (elected 1911) and in 1930 he would be elected Governor of California. Governor Rolph sufferd a fatal heart attack on June 2, 1934.


The Hind,Rolph & Company was officially formed in 1900. George Hind and James Rolph Jr. would opeate a large fleet of exquisite looking tall ships, all built at various west coast shipyards and all registered at San Francisco. The major trade barrier to Hawaii's closest and major market - San Francisco - for its raw sugar was eliminated by the 1876 Treaty of Reciprocity between the United States and the Kingdom of Hawaii. Through the treaty, the U.S. received a coaling station at Pearl Harbor and Hawaii's sugar planters, duty-free entry into U.S. markets for their sugar. This market was solidified with the U.S. annexation of Hawaii in 1898 after the Spanish-American War. Starting with the twin schooners, Muriel c.1895 and Honoipu c.1898, Hind, Rolph & Co. would be one of the first shippers to regularly supply coal to Hawaii in exchange for caroges of sugar, which were brought to California.


Puako c.1925. This photo was taken by Cyril R. Littlebury on June 26, 1925 from Prospect Point. This is on the Stanley Park side of Vancouver's 1st Narrows that you pass through entering the harbour. The barquentine Puako had just been bought at an auction sale in Victoria'...for a song.'by Hecate Straits Towing Co. In 1926 she would be renamed Drumwall and in 1952 she was scuttled at Oyster Bay, Vancouver Island, joining some 14 or so old vessels grounded there for use as a breakwater. Photo provided by Dudley Booth - History by Rick James - B.C. Underwater Archeological Society.


In researching the history of the Hind, Rolph & Company Sugar Ships, I came across a most amazing account of a very young sea Captain, Captain William Olson. Turns out William, at 19 suddenly became ‘the youngest Captain’ on the Pacific (possibly in the world) when he was forced to take command of his fathers ship, who was accidentally killed trying to cross the deadly Coos Bay Bar in 1883. While in Command of the Sugar Ship, Honoipu, Captain William Olson would be part of the ‘longest tall ship race’ on the Pacific!
See the link below for a MUST READ account of the life of this intrepid ‘Boy Captain‘ and his harrowing sailing escapades.


The Georgette was one of the last of a large fleet of tall ships built for Hind, Rolph & Company of San Francisco. She was launched in 1918 as a lumber hauler at Columbia Yard in Portland, Oregon. The Georgette was a four masted schooner, 188 feet long, weighed 867 tons and was painted white like all her siblings. In 1920 the ship worked the route from Alexandria, Egypt, to Seattle. Then she was placed in Atlantic service until 1932. The schooner was purchased the next year by radio personality Phillips Lord, whose character was known as Seth Parker. After the installation of a Diesel engine, the ship was rechristened Seth Parker after Lord's character. He then put the ship into service in the South Pacific intended for use as a floating radio/research station. The Georgette/Seth Parker was eventually used as a ‘beached movie theater’ off Kane`ohe Bay, Oahu, Hawaii, until she burned in 1945. There are notable striking similarities in all the ships of the Hind, Rolph & Company fleet. Note the ‘third’ layer of planking along the ‘waist’ of the Seth Parker, just as is found on the other ships (such as Puako) in the fleet, built 20 years earlier.

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