I’m on a (really old) boat

I spent Sunday evening on a historic ship docked in San Francisco as part of a fifth grade field trip.  Though it was only an 18 hour trip, I am spent.  Every fifth grade class in our elementary school takes this trip up to San Francisco, up to Hyde Street Pier where they board the Balclutha, a ship launched in 1886 near Glasgow, Scotland. Then, the ship carried goods around Cape Horn. When it sailed then, conditions were punishing. Now it’s permanently docked and part of the SF Maritime museum.

Here’s the Balclutha with the original crew.

Balclutha crew

The Balclutha is now permanently docked at the Hyde Street Pier in San Francisco

The children divide up into groups well before the trip, forming galley crews, rigger crews, deckhands and boat crews. Mates are assigned, a historian is appointed. As a chaperone, I was called a Tall Sailor, permitted to nothing to help the kids, unless in an emergency. We were not permitted to lean or sit, just stand and watch our crew struggle with their tasks. At night, we all rotated through a night watch, two hours of staring into the cold dark, with the lit up Ghirardelli Square sign behind us and Alcatraz lit up in the distance ahead of us. I sometimes forget how pretty San Francisco is, how much there is to see.  In the early morning, still dark, we saw swimmers swimming in the freezing water, glow lights attached to their backs. I guessed they were training for something.  I could not imagine the cold they felt. At night we heard the barks of sea lions and the seagulls squawking too. The fog horn was methodical, low, sad sounding.

The captain, first mate and doctor, all played their parts well. They were funny and stern and at times, angry with the crews. For the most part the kids did really well with their orders, though early on the first day, one child fainted and hit the deck very hard, bruising his face and chipping some teeth.  Another became almost hysterical when she was told she would have to row a boat. One poor girl spent much of the trip fighting off, and then eventually succumbing to, motion sickness. The remainder of the trip she sat next to a metal bucket labelled, PUKE.

It was good to take the trip.  It was good to see the kids rise to the occasion, to work hard, and work together. Here’s Hazel, who was a mate, instructing her crew.

Hazel aboard the Balclutha

And me in my bunk.  I look cheerful only because I know it’s just one night. In reality, I never would have lasted ten minutes in the 1800’s. Thank God my ancestors were sturdier folk.

The Four Seasons, Balclutha. Really the best way to get to know the other parents in your child's classroom is by spending a freezing night with them, in the close quarters of a boat. Some of them might even have contraband, like hand warmers.

I’m still job hunting.  It’s still tedious. I have sent out a few stories to a few different contests, we’ll see how that goes. I spent Saturday morning at Hazel’s soccer game and then Clyde’s. Clyde surprised me. He’s fast, nimble, a good defender of the ball. I don’t know why it so took me aback, but it did. He can be meek, cautious, worried, but on the field he was quite the opposite. It was nice to see. I went to take Hazel back to her dad’s tonight, and Ivy had written me a dear little letter, which she does now quite often.

We were to write our children letters for them to open on the Balclutha. We were to pretend is was 1906, that the San Francisco earthquake had just happened. My parents each wrote her one. I don’t know what they said.  But just now I was looking up letters people wrote to relatives and friends about the quake.  They’re really interesting.  I could spend hours reading all the historical letters.  I like this excerpt quite a bit – a reporting of the 1906 San Francisco quake, after the fires had ruined Chinatown:

“Under close military inspection, soldiers in khaki and Chinamen in black broadcloth were raising scores of clean, new tents, in ordered rows, over the bruised meadow flowers of yesterday. The whole equipment here was noticeably good; from tents and ropes to stoves and shining refuse-cans, the material was new and sound, the best I had seen issued by the government to refugees. Behind the newly rising city of khaki tents was the big white tent of the medical department, with its red cross insignia winding and unwinding itself on the staff. Cows were browsing in the meadows and the earth lay innocently blooming, as if there had been no harm intended by those few seconds when the hide of our great mastodon-earth twinkled away the fly-like vexation of man and his little works.”

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One Response to “I’m on a (really old) boat”

  1. Cassondra says:

    That’s a cool trip! How come I never got to take such cool trips when I was in elementary school? The most interesting trip I remember was to the science museum, and that was only interesting because they had this demo of centripetal and centrifugal force, and I got in it and the guy I liked at the time pushed me around. It was the most attention I’d ever gotten from him, really the only attention I ever got from him, which is what made the trip so fantastic.