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A Brief History of Sailing San Francisco Bay

Every year, new people start sailing in the Bay Area. They might be sailors who moved here because of the sailing (OK, or a job) or they’ve lived here their whole life and just figured out what they’ve been missing. Beyond learning the bow from the stern and what current is all about, there is an incredible history of sailors and sailing that started ahead of the Gold Rush and carries on until today.

It would be a shame to sail the Bay without knowing some of its history. Since Latitude 38’s history only goes back to 1977 we missed a lot of it too. Thankfully, back in 2015, editor John Riise put together an abbreviated history of sailing the Bay. We rediscovered it while reviewing one of the 559 issues we have published online (scroll down). We’ve left the identity of the images until the end so history buffs can guess who they are.

Richard Henry Dana
Guess who.
© 2024 Archives

The images are of a few of the characters and ships that shaped our history. The story in our June 2015 issue began, “It’s hard to imagine what the Bay Area, or the world, would be like without sailing. Before there were trains, trucks or even decent roads, people and goods reached far-flung places by sailing ship.”

Flying Cloud
A famous ship.
© 2024 Painting by Antonia Jacobsen

“And the course of history often pivoted around where and when they got there. Think about it: In the big picture, from the decks of sailing ships, trade routes were established. Continents were discovered. Empires formed, flourished and fell. Wars were won or lost, and the fates of nations decided. Heady stuff.”

Bernard Gilboy
An amazing 7,000-mile voyage.
© 2024 Archives

“Since we’re believers in that old adage that you can’t really appreciate the present without knowing a bit of the past — and San Francisco Bay has one heck of an interesting past — we’ve put together this brief timeline of the sailing-related history of the Bay Area (along with some non-sailing stuff that occasionally ties in). None of it will make you a better sailor, but we can guarantee a few laughs, and that you’ll learn some things that will be extremely useful if you ever end up on Jeopardy. At the very least, we hope it will give you a renewed appreciation of the great sailors and colorful characters in whose wakes we sail.”

Mary Patten
This sailor gave birth shortly after arriving in the Bay Area at age 19.
© 2024 Smithsonian Portrait Gallery

“This month, we’ll take you up through the 1800s. Next month, the 1900s to present day.”

You can see more images and read the full story from 1542 to 1897 here.

Image 1: Richard Henry Dana
Image 2: Flying Cloud
Image 3: Bernard Gilboy
Image 4: Mary Patten

1 Comment

  1. Memo Gidley 3 months ago

    Wow…enjoy the history!

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