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Balclutha Sailing Ship—The Bay Area’s last square-rigged ship

in From the Mobile App, Historic San Francisco, Kid-Friendly, Maritime, Museums

The most famous entry in the historic ship collection at the Hyde Street Pier, the three-masted and square-rigged Balclutha was built in Scotland in 1886. The 301-foot ship required a 26-man crew to handle the complex rigging and 25 sails that sped her along at a wicked-quick 300 miles per day. During her working years she rounded the Horn 17 times.

The sturdy Balclutha had many careers. On her 1887 140-day maiden voyage from Wales to San Francisco she carried 2,650 tons of coal, returning home with California wheat. In 1899 she entered the lumber trade, sailing between Puget Sound and Australia. In the early 20th century, renamed the Star of Alaska, she worked the salmon route between California and Alaska.

Retiring in 1930, she was renamed again, this time as Pacific Queen. She then became a movie star, strutting her stuff along with Clark Gable in the 1933 movie, Mutiny on the Bounty. Later, towed up and down the west coast, she was put on exhibition as a “pirate ship.”

In 1954, the SF Maritime Museum restored the ship to her former glory and original name. The Balclutha was transferred to the National Park Service in 1978, and in 1985 was named a National Historic Landmark.

Did you know: The Balclutha’s statistics include overall length (301 feet), deck length (256.5 feet), depth (22.7 feet), beam (38.6 feet), gross tonnage (1689), and height at the mainmast (145 feet).

Don’t miss: A multimedia exhibit entitled Cargo is King located on the Balclutha’s ‘tweendeck. It was awarded first place in the 2009 National Association for Interpretation Media Competition.

SF Waterfront Editors Suggest…

Square Rigged Ships: An Introduction— The thrilling age of large square-rigged ships like the Balclutha has passed, but this gripping narrative–written by a sea captain who knew them inside out–offers a classic look at these fascinating ships. This book is a step-by-step introduction to the ships and their mesmerizing designs, the treacherous routes they sailed, and the specialist skills of men who worked on them. Complete with both insights into the bygone era of sailing and entertaining stories of perilous adventures at sea, it’s the perfect compendium for sailors, historians, and travel enthusiasts alike. About $10. Buy or learn more about Square-Rigged Ships: An Introduction

Framed or Stretched-Canvas Print of the Balclutha—The ultimate gift for Balclutha-loving seafarers, this handsome high-quality print by photographer Linda Phelps can be purchased as a paper print, as a stretched-canvas print wrapped on 2.5″ stretcher bars, and/or as a framed print. Prices range from about $18 to $58. Buy or learn more about the Tall Ship Balclutha Canvas Print/Canvas Art

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Richard Scholl January 3, 2012 at 2:36 pm

The description says that the Balclutha is both a schooner and square-rigged. All of the photos show she is square-rigged. Was she at some time a schooner, or is the description in error?


Suzie Rodriguez January 3, 2012 at 3:48 pm

Thanks for pointing out our error, Richard. Somehow that word, schooner, snuck into the description…perhaps while planning to write another post about the schooner Thayer? Anyway, I’ve replaced it with the simple “ship.”


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