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Up-Bay Voyages: The Sea Chantey Sing

Dennis Maggard who sailed his Pacific Seacraft 37 Pamela from San Francisco to New Zealand and back, a three-year voyage through the South Pacific, sent in a short story on this close-to-home adventure on the Bay. Next Dennis plans to take Pamela to the wilds of British Columbia and circumnavigate Vancouver Island. 

It’s raining and there’s no wind. Why not go sailing up the Bay to sing sea chanteys on the Barbary Coast of San Francisco?

Did you know you can sail a boat right through the epicenter of a metropolitan area of 7 million people and 101 cities without seeing or hearing a single soul? On a rainy day, you can do it.

You will need some hot food to take on your voyage. Throw a chicken into the pressure cooker along with an onion and as much garlic as you can carry, add a half cup of seawater and rice, and finish it off with a clump of kale. That’ll carry you all the way to San Francisco.

Hyde St Pier
The historic Hyde Street Pier is a quiet destination in the heart of the City.
© 2020 Dennis Maggard

When you get to Ghirardelli Square, throw out the anchor in Aquatic Cove and settle in for the night. You won’t find a better spot to set the hook in the entire San Francisco Bay. While the luminescence of the historic chocolate factory sparkles on the calm waters of the anchorage, the lights of Coit Tower point skyward as if to rival the upthrust of the Financial District skyscrapers beyond, with the darkened shapes of the tall ships and steamboats haunting the Hyde Street Pier.

Aquatic Cove and Hyde Street Pier are part of the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park. Here you’ll find the 1886 square-rigged Balclutha and the 1890 ferryboat Eureka, where the old salts gather on the first Saturday of each month to sing sea chanteys.

Pamela anchored in Aquatic Cove
Pamela anchored in the protected waters of Aquatic Cove.
© 2020 Dennis Maggard

These old work songs were sung by sailors and fishermen when it was time to heave away the capstan to weigh anchor or raise the sails. They tell us of rounding Cape Horn in winter. They warn us of the curse of strong drink. They fill our heads with dreams of drinking beer all night in the arms of the lasses when we reach the shore, but for now, put on your oilskin jacket, lad, and leave the girls behind!

They also make you thirsty. Fortunately, Hyde Street Pier is a few steps away from the best Irish coffee on the waterfront, at the Buena Vista. What could be better on a wintry evening? My favorite bartender preheats the glass, pours in the coffee and sugar cubes, slings the whiskey and finishes with a dollop of heavy cream. It’s the world’s best, and it says so on the napkin.

In the morning I find all sorts of aquatic life about, not least the hordes of swimmers who plunge into the chilly water without wetsuits. They do this every day, rain or shine, summer and winter.

Sailing vessel Pamela has all her flags flying as the winter sun rises warmly over the waterfront. But soon it’s time to catch the flood back down the Bay. We say our goodbyes to the historic waterfront chronicled by the likes of Jack London and John Steinbeck, grateful that we can still make a connection to the lives of the 19th-century men and women who worked and lived along this foggy stretch of Pacific coastline.

It’s winter sailing on the Bay, and before long the sea breeze blowing through the Golden Gate begins to subside, with the incoming tide to push us along, and Pamela’s trusty diesel engine purring through the fog.

And not a solitary soul in sight.

Sea Chanteys occur on the first Saturday of each month, 8 p.m. to 11 p.m., and are free to the public, aboard the 1890 ferry Eureka on Hyde Street Pier. Contact Peter Kasin, Park Ranger, Interpretation Division, San Francisco Maritime NHP, (415) 561-7171, [email protected].

Click for details on Anchoring in Aquatic Cove.

Can one safely leave the dinghy? Dennis advises securing the dinghy and motor with a cable and lock somewhere near the boat ramp just north of the actual pier. His other method is not recommended — tying to one of the long, rusty ladders laden with barnacles and climb up to the pier, then announce yourself to security and cross your fingers they don’t throw you in jail.

1 Comment

  1. Neal A Rosenthal 3 years ago

    Lovely to read your writing again

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