Year of the Bay sets sail

November 1, 2012

On November 1, the historic ship the Alma set sail from the San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park on the north end of the city, bound for its birthplace, Hunter’s Point, which it hadn’t visited for several decades.

The Alma is a scow schooner, a flat-bottomed boat that maritime park Superintendent Craig Kenkel called “the U-Haul of its day,” the type of boat once used to move goods all over the region, down the sloughs of the South Bay and into the shallow waters of the Delta. Of the hundreds that once worked the Bay only two remain and the Alma is the only one that still sails. (More on that history here.)

The voyage was organized as part of a daylong event launching a series of “Year of the Bay” commemorations and activities in 2013, when the new Bay Bridge opens and the America’s Cup brings elite sailboat racing to the region. “We’ve come together to really open up that celebration to all the communities of the Bay,” said Jon Christensen, Year of the Bay project director and outgoing director of the Bill Lane Center for the American West at Stanford University.

Along for the ride on the Alma were several dozen people from a range of organizations, from the Oakland Museum and California Historical Society, which will both mount Bay-themed exhibits in 2013, to the India Basin Neighborhood Association and Literacy for Environmental Justice, grassroots groups based in the Bayview-Hunters Point neighborhood.

The crew that sails the Alma, staff and volunteers, are well practiced at teaching just about anyone the basics of raising sail—”Heave!” and “Avast!” called first mate Alice Watts. But no amount of heaving could make the wind blow on this calm day, so we motored the seven miles to Hunter’s Point. Just south of India Basin Shoreline and Heron’s Head Park, the schooner docked at a rather rundown bit of shoreline where local organizers hope someday to house a center for teaching boatbuilding.

At the EcoCenter in Heron’s Head Park, an off-the-grid facility that treats its own wastewater, Christensen and collaborator Jon Voss launched the yearofthebay.org website, built by a company called HistoryPin.com that allows people to upload, map, and catalog their own photos, especially historic photos that shed light on the history of the Bay.

“People built this Bay. We built this Bay,” said Christensen, chronicling communities from the Ohlone and the Miwok to the Beatniks and hippies who’ve lived and worked along the Bay shore. Now, people can help build the historical record of the Bay as well.

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About the Author

Dan was editor of Bay Nature from 2004 until 2013, when he left to work for SF-based Stamen Design. A onetime professional cabinetmaker, he considers himself a lifelong maker of things and teller of stories. Dan has been working at the intersection of journalism and technology since, at age 16, he began learning reporting, page layout, and database design. His enduring interest in environmental issues crystallized into a career path in 1998 when he assisted former U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Hass in a cross-disciplinary nature writing and ecology course at UC Berkeley, from which Dan received a Masters in English literature. In 1999, he became Associate Editor of Terrain, the erstwhile quarterly magazine of Berkeley's Ecology Center. In addition to editing and art-directing Bay Nature magazine, he was also Bay Nature’s chief technology strategist, fixer of broken things, and designer of databases and fancy spreadsheets. And he was even known to leave the office and actually hike outdoors.

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