Models, Tanks And Angel Island
For the love of the sea, it is a marjoram of delights that brings us enjoyment, the seaways of travel, provides employment, but probably most importantly nourishes our soul. From the depths of imagination of brilliant minds like Jules Verne and his “Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea,” artfully translated into moving pictures by Walt Disney, to futuristic treasures visualized by hologram rooms on the decks of futuristic starship troopers, the sea and sailing is captured forever in movies, paintings, books and for part of the purpose of this story: models.
For many of us our first foray with boats took place with large plastic flotillas engaged in battle in the tumultuous waters of our bathtub. These battles moved from the porcelain confines of the bathroom to lavishly orchestrated waterscapes encapsulated in latex in our backyard swimming pools, or in my case my friends and neighbors. Finally, if deemed worthy, the battles moved to the vast expanse of... wait for it, anticipation is half the fun, Grand Haven State Park on Lake Michigan!
Some of my favorite memories are of buying horrible cheap little plastic toy boats with a little motor in them and taking them to the beach with my son, hoping the darn thing would work and then at least last a day or two. Even as we moved up to more expensive models, they seemed to last the same amount of time!
I'm sure that many of these boats are still in a tub somewhere in storage or in the attic. I am after all a “hoarder,” though I prefer to be referred to as a collector. Part of my love is collecting art, books and magazines about sailing, yachting and most of all the America's Cup. I remember last year when billionaire Bill Koch shared parts of his collection here and in Newport, RI., thinking one of these days his treasure trove will be almost as good as mine. In the past it was old book stores and now it is thank you E-Bay!
In the San Francisco Bay Area, we are fortunate to have at our doorsteps some of the richest collections of maritime history, artifacts and ships. From Jack London Square, to the old Alameda Naval base to Hyde Street Piers, these riches are everywhere.
Thanks to the collecting endeavors of Staff Commodore Robert C. Keefe (the current curator and club historian) of the St. Francis Yacht Club, they have been creating one of the finest model collections on the West Coast. Never to rival the infamous, hallowed halls of the New York Yacht Club, the StFYC at a pace of two or three new models a year is coming up famously fast!
The yacht club was founded in 1927 adjacent to the harbor that was built as part of Panama Pacific Exposition of 1915. The club hosts one of the premier annual yachting events with the Rolex Big Boat Series. Its members have captured numerous championships and titles in most of the prestigious sailing in the United States and Europe.
Keefe was the founder of the Barient Winch Company in Sausalito and an esteemed racer in his own right. In 1964, Keefe convinced Commodore Stan Natcher that StFYC should create a series to showcase big boat yachting talent from around the world.
With this year marking the big five zero (50) for the Big Boat Series (BBS), there is much to appreciate this summer at the StFYC. We are fortunate to have one of the premiere yacht clubs here on the city shore, of course, joined across the Bay by the historic Corinthian and San Francisco yacht clubs.
The St. Francis knows and understands the embodiment of the prestige and honor a true yacht club holds, not only with its membership, sailing and youth programs, but to the community as well. I guarantee that the StFYC wouldn't be shopping the world's most prestigious race to another city, but maybe that is the honor and tradition that sent Larry packing.
The St. Francis: A Model Yacht Club
Keefe said, “One of the most unique things going on at this club, in relationship to every other yacht club around the world, is our model collection. The model room at the New York Yacht Club (NYYC) is what it is, ‘world famous.' We don't pretend to be in competition with them.
“They have been at it for 150 years and they are the ‘holy grail.' We recognize that, and they are our friends. If you put them on the pedestal, all the rest of us are somewhere else.
“We are doing something really unique here,” said Keefe. “The membership of this club has sponsored this to make it happen. We have more than 44 models now in the building!”
According to Keefe, the yacht club has “always had models, but only as decoration or atmosphere. They were never really considered a collection.”
Keefe wrote, “In 1976 the Club was destroyed by fire, and 12 models in the building were either consumed or very badly damaged. For the next 25 years many of those models were replaced, and a few new ones were donated by various members.”
The Club itself has never commissioned a new model. In 2004 then-Commodore Terry Klaus appointed Keefe with the responsibility of creating a museum-quality model collection to be the equal of any in the yacht clubs of our peer group.
Keefe said, “Each model tells a story concerning the history of the yachts and the men who owned them. They speak in a way that paintings, photographs and the written word cannot equal.
“A hundred years from today they will illustrate yachting achievement during the latter part of the twentieth century as furthered by the St. Francis Yacht Club membership. The collection will continue to grow, and be of value to our members, and to all that appreciate fine marine art.”
Keefe has a favorite passage from “Ships” by John Masefield (1868-1967): “They mark our passage as a race of men; Earth will not see ships such as those again.”
Keefe recalled, “The models of Baruna, Bolero and Orient certainly define the best of the 1960's here on the Bay. Good News and Athene were an important part also. Chubasco coming north from Newport Beach to race in 1959/60 was really the start of the so-called, Big Boat Series. We didn't realize that at the time.”
One of the legendary races in the history of the club took place between Bolero and Baruna on April 10, 1960. The story of the matchup is told in the models and paintings that adorn the interior of the St. Francis. It is a story that Keefe loved to recall.
It was a day when the winds were blowing steady and hard. Keefe was on Bolero and according to legend the crowds that day on the Marina Green would have made the America's Cup organizers last year envious. Sports Illustrated even showed up to cover the event.
Bolero at 74 feet was designed in 1948 by Sparkman & Stephens and built the next year at Nevins Yacht Yard in New York. It served as the StFYC flagship in 1959 and 1960. Baruna at 72 feet was built in 1938 at the Quincy Adams Yacht Yard in Massachusetts and was also a Sparkman & Stephens design.
“Bolero was built to beat Baruna,” wrote Keefe. “They had met several times on the race course, once racing 400 miles and finishing 20 seconds apart!”
In 1959 at the urging of then-Commodore Dennis Jordan, James Michael (also a StFYC Commodore) purchased Bolero with the expressed intention of reviving the legendary battles.
In the race, Baruna grabbed the early lead as the yachts tacked up the cityfront toward Crissy Field and the Golden Gate. Those were the days of cotton and Dacron sails, not the Kevlar and carbon 3DL wings of today!
As the wind gusts approached 40 knots (no wind limits) the boats were careening alongside Angel Island as spinnaker tears turned to rips leading to blown out shredded sails on both boats as.... (ask Keefe what happens next.)
“The history of yacht racing is in the models,” said Keefe. “The builders, designers, owners tell a story of the evolution of yacht design right in front of you. From towing tanks to computer simulation the whole art of yacht design has changed because of the evolution intricacy.
“We continue to add to the model collection,” said Keefe. “We have three or four models under construction right now. The problem is that there are very few model makers who can build to museum quality.”
One of the best model makers was Ken Gardiner of Newport Beach, CA., who has several models in the yacht club. Unfortunately, he passed away last year. Most of the America's Cup models that you see in yacht clubs were mass produced from Gardiner's shop. In many ways he was the Henry Ford of model building. He was meticulous in his work and with the production of his models.
In the models you can see the tremendous shift in yacht design from gaffe to Marconi rigs; and the evolution of the hulls from the 19th century designs of Nathaniel Herreschoff to the space age creations of Gary Mull. From wood to aluminum to carbon fiber. It's all there in amazing detail.
This brings us to the resident StFYC model maker, Marin County's own Paul Reck, who designs, draws and builds elaborate recreations of some of the world's most famous yachts from scratch with original materials, many of which are what the boats were constructed.
What started out as a “hobby” for Reck in 1939 with a Cowboy Match Box kit has turned into a lifelong profession and obsession. In many cases the only plans he has to work with are the ones he designs based on old grainy photographs and a lot of research that can be “quite intense.”
One of the hallmarks of Reck's models is that they look as realistic as possible. If there are warped decks, torn sails and disheveled sheets, that's what you get; in meticulous detail. When you see a model where the lines are rolled up perfectly and everything is in its place, chances are Reck didn't build that one and it never looked that way onboard in real life!
Reck said, “I've been doing this for 70 years and I am still learning. A lot of the fun for me is developing and building these models from scratch.”
If you can't find Paul at the Maritime Library at Fort Mason or the Hyde Street Pier where he occasionally teaches, you might try the Maritime Museum in Cherry Point, VT., on Lake Champlain, MIT, in Bath, ME., or maybe at the Mystic Seaport Museum in Connecticut.
You most certainly can find him at the scrapheap in the multitude of yacht harbors and shipyards that dot the greater SF Bay Area looking for pieces of sugar pine, cedar, walnut for planks and decking, or brass tubing to make turnbuckles.
He found the coffee grinder for Athena in a junkyard in Petaluma! Reck has been responsible for more than a dozen of the models at the yacht club, including “the Big Six” (again this is an interactive article).
Reck recalled, “The biggest thing I remember about Orient was the color blue of the hull. It took six months of research trying to match the paint, which has a touch of green in it. I've learned though, never finish a boat bright.
“My trademark is putting a padlock on every model!” exclaimed Reck. “I make a lot of my own tools, others I've gotten from dentists.” He noted that with the intricacies of some of the models that certain things like “real winches are a pain in the ass to make.”
Of course, not only do the new models keep him busy, but also the aftermath of some of the parties at the yacht club and certainly the Big Boat Series remaking that he restored the destroyed model of Santana (which was Humphrey Bogart's boat at one time) when a “drunk” knocked it over. Reck estimates that he has “repaired over 25 models.” So if you happen to be a guest at the St. Francis, be careful!
What's The NYYC Got?
The NYYC model collection as the “holy grail” began with the formation of a model committee in 1846 consisting of two members, Edwin A. Stevens and A. Foster. The purpose of the committee was to take the lines off of member yachts while they were out of the water and record them in the form of a half model.
This was a continuation of an attempt to develop a handicap system. The idea of using the model to establish a handicap rating system was found to be “unsatisfactory,” and the models were returned to the club to be displayed.
The size of the collection today numbers 151 full-rigged models and approximately 1,200 builders and half models and, with the exception of half a dozen of the full-rigged models, they are all built-up solid hulls using the “lift” method of construction. The models are made from a variety of woods with pine, basswood and linden being the most common. They range in scale from 3/16 inch to 1 inch to the foot.
Before giving way to the world of high technology computers, naval architects resorted to tank testing to float their boats. One of the premier tanks in the world is located in Bethesda, MD., at the David Taylor Model Basin (DTMB) facility and is part of the Naval Surface Warfare Center. The new navy modeling facility was built in 1939.
The technical application of the tank is a shallow water basin, a deep water basin and a J-shaped turning basin used for steering maneuvers. Its carriage can provide speeds up to 18 knots.
The deep water basin has a pneumatic wave maker located at one end, and a wave absorbing beach at the other. This capability allows modeling of regular or irregular sea states. Located behind a movable section of the beach is a fitting out dry dock. Its carriage can provide speeds up to 20 knots.
A high-speed basin consists of two adjoining sections: a deep water section and a shallow water section, wave-making capability exists in this basin, and there are three large underwater viewing windows at different elevations which are set into the wall about mid-length. The high-speed carriages can provide complex motions for the model at speeds up to 50 knots.
The success or failure of the tank can be measured in the differences that Olin Stephens experienced in 1967 with Intrepid, as opposed to the challenge that beset Britton Chance Jr. in 1974 with Mariner. And as history ultimately dictates, Intrepid defended the America's Cup twice and in later years Mariner sank to the bottom of the ocean.
Angel Island: Bit Of Heaven And Unfinished Business
So close, but yet so far. It is amazing how out of sight Angel Island is for so many, but yet it is right there in plain view every day for millions. Everyone knows and goes to Alcatraz Island, but Angel Island is every bit as historically significant as Ellis Island in New York. Yet in circling this little bit of heaven, you're left wondering what could be; it certainly has a lot of unfinished business.
Angel Island is a study of an area of vast resources and amazing possibilities. It has an incredible history, but much of the island is like an unfinished canvass awaiting the brush strokes of multicolored pastels and paints.
From a biking and hiking standpoint there is an endless array of paths and trails. Within the existing structure of the different camps and compounds, the opportunity to restore and refurbish countless historic structures to their original glory abounds in multitudes.
My first foray to the island was many, many years ago on an overnight picnic cruise taking a new 47-footer by Sparkman & Stephens for a spin. I remember for the most part I was “spinning” below deck, but thankfully not spewing! It may or may not have been the new Hylas line that had been recently introduced. Remember Hylas was a Greek mythological youth associated with Hercules and the cruise of the Argonauts, right?
Anyway, I set foot on the island briefly, felt better and here I am 28 years later taking and making my first real trip to Angel Island.
What a treat. Ferryboats depart for the island from Tiburon and Fisherman's Wharf. The marina is readily accessible by day, but overnights are regulated to mooring balls in Ayala Cove. Attaching to the twin balls is an art form in itself as many of the old timers love to watch the newbies figure it out! More on this later.
Anyway, I came across with a multitude of school groups that were taking the day to teach, picnic and play. Cool! For me at that age, it was a trip across Lake Michigan on the Milwaukee Clipper from Muskegon and back.
I offloaded my bike and off I went clockwise toward the revamped U.S. Immigration Station. From there it was off to Fort McDowell, which was my historic high point of the day! The US Army originally had named the island Fort McDowell and for a time the visitor center was located there, with ferry- boats embarking and disembarking from that point.
Though many of the buildings there are in need of repair, they're mostly constructed of mortar, brick and stone so time may be the ally the park needs until much needed dollars are dialed in. There is a cool play and picnic area there for large groups to enjoy.
From there it was to the bluffs overlooking the San Francisco Bay, the city and Alcatraz. For me gazing over the turquoise and emerald water of the swift moving currents reminded me of all the viewing areas that were available for the America's Cup and this would have been a keen spot with the entire race course to behold!
The bike trail is certainly set for the young and the old with gentle hills to traverse, not too high or low. With all things Northern California, layer up. The temperature can go from hot to cold in as few minutes as it takes to pull your sweatshirt off or put it back on!
Again passing through parts of the park I'm reminded of the fragile, gentile nature of our environment and am grateful that these treasures have been left for us to enjoy.
After spending some time at Camp Reynolds in the Park's western edge, I explored the possibilities for the future there with a row of perfectly preserved cabins awaiting anxious campers. I rounded the remaining corners to join up with Ayala Bay's infamous permanent temporary residents: Bill and Vickie Burkart.
Anyone who visits the cove and marina are likely to see the majestic-looking, lovingly restored 1986 Vagabond 47, Blue Heron, moored there. The Burkart's bought her in 2000 with algea stained sheets, lines and sails, weathered decks and a lot of scrubbing below to be done and have turned her into home.
They have mastered the art of attaching lines to the moor, though they recounted a startling story of how my boss famously figured out his own way of securing his boat with a jaw dropping display of carnival like aerobatics without missing a beat or leaving his family and friends to drift away. Enough said, other than it sounded great and probably was real cool to watch!
The Vagabond 47 is a masthead ketch that was originally designed in 1978 by William Gardner for Bluewater Yachts in Taiwan. Gardner, who passed away a couple of years back at 93, called the Pacific Northwest home for most of his life.
A Little Or A Lot Of History
One only has to turn to what the National Park Service has done in GGNP with Forts Cronkite, Baker and Barry to see what Angel Island could behold. In 1955 the California State Park Commission began purchasing acreage and by 1962 the entire island became a state park.
Over the years Angel Island has been used for military forts, a U.S. Public Health Service Quarantine Station, and a U.S. Bureau of Immigration inspection and detention facility.
In 2008 a fast moving wildfire encompassed almost half the island. Firefighters were brought over as helicopters dropped water and fire retardants to protect the historic buildings. In the years that have passed since the fire, it was discovered the fire did more good than damage, almost working like a controlled burn, leaving most of the evergreens intact but burning off the undergrowth.
Like much of ancient California, the island was once inhabited by the Miwok Nation, who hunted and fished in the greater Bay Area until the advent of the Spanish exploration. In 1775 a naval frigate, the San Carlos, captained by Juan de Ayala, lay anchor, christening the island Isla de Los Ángeles.
The U.S. War Department constructed batteries on the island to bolster our defenses during the American Civil War and subsequent World Wars. Fort McDowell and Camp Randall were established during that time frame. A quarantine station was opened in 1891.
Fort McDowell was used as a detention station for Japanese, German and Italian immigrants. The army decommissioned the military post in 1947. In 1954 a Nike missile station was installed on the island.
From 1910 to 1940, the Angel Island Immigration Station processed approximately 1 million Asian immigrants entering into the U.S., leading to it sometimes being referred to as “The Ellis Island of the West.” Due to the restrictions of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, many Chinese immigrants spent years on the island, waiting for entry.
Ellis Island, in New York Bay, New Jersey (thanks to a Supreme Court ruling in 2008) was the gateway for millions of immigrants on the United States East Coast from 1892 until 1954. It is estimated that over 11 million immigrants passed through Ellis Island and over 100 million Americans can trace their family ancestry there.
The immigration station closed in 1954 as most of the buildings fell into disrepair and was abandoned. Attempts at redeveloping the site were unsuccessful for years until its landmark status was established. In 1965, Ellis Island was proclaimed a part of Statue of Liberty National Monument.
Right now Ellis Island is open on a limited basis due the destruction caused by Hurricane Sandy in 2012. Flood waters covered three quarters of Liberty Island and almost all of Ellis Island. The Statue of Liberty itself did not receive any damage. The Statue's 126-year-old iron framework designed by Alexandre-Gustave Eiffel withstood the storm's intense winds. It was estimated that repairs to both Ellis Island and Liberty Island may be as much as $59 million.
Back to Angel Island: The natural vegetation on the island has been aided, abided and altered over the years by the Army, DNR and the State of California. Originally, Bluegum Eucalyptus was planted for windbreaks, beautification, timber, and erosion control. In the last 20 years most of the Eucalyptus has been removed in order to restore native flora and reduce fire danger.
Cattle grazing, which is what most of California was known for a couple of centuries ago, allowed annual grasses introduced from Southern Europe to replace the native perennial grasses.
The summit of Angel Island on Mount Caroline Livermore was flattened in the 1950s to build the missile base, but was re-engineered and landscaped to almost its height as man taketh away and then giveth back to nature.
In conjunction with my experience to visit Angel Island, I had the pleasure to attend the Mountain Play Theatre's presentation of Rogers and Hammerstein's “South Pacific” on Mount Tamalpais in Marin County. The beautiful outdoor amphitheater is celebrating its 101st year!
The play is set in the Pacific Theater in the depths of World War II and there was something hauntingly familiar in my visit to Angel Island that day as parts of the island are a step back in time to the prejudice of that era.
Many of the buildings on Angel Island are a testament to the Bay Area's Asian residents and though many of the buildings are in need of restoration, it seems like the seeds are in place to make that happen, if not now hopefully in the near future.
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