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Monday, August 18, 2008

Visit to the Ghost Fleet

For those of you who wanted to see the voyage I mentioned earlier.
It was a cold and foggy morning in San Francisco (typical summer weather). We made it down to the pier around 8:30am, to see most of the wharf and the Bay Bridge engulfed in fog.

When we walked up the gangplank to board the giant ship, coffee, juice and donuts awaited us before we launched.

This guy was waiting very patiently for someone to drop their donut. Seagulls are like dogs with wings. As soon as they see food, they practically beg.
He was so desperate for my donut that he let me take lots of photos of him. Alas, I was not in the mood to share.

By 9am, we sailing towards Suisun Bay, out of the fog, on our way to see the Naval Reserve Fleet, otherwise known as the Ghost Fleet (or Mothball Fleet).
It's the people you meet aboard ship that are the most interesting of all. Many of the men served in the Navy or the Merchant Marine, and are only too glad to tell you some incredible stories of their lives at sea. You always end up so grateful that they survived to tell the tale.
The volunteers who operate the ship take their jobs very seriously, and this is a place where the older you are, the more valuable your experience is.
And then, we were past the fog and into the sunshine. Two tugboats (and assorted seabirds) escorted us on our entire voyage.
We crossed under many bridges.
And finally at our destination.
These so-called Ghost Ships are actually in better shape inside than they might look outside. They are completely sealed and waiting to be sold for scrap, or perhaps decomissioned and restored (like the Jeremiah O'Brien) or sent to museums.
From this really interesting article (text exerpted is in italics):
The ghostly congregation of ships known as the Mothball Fleet floats silently on Suisun Bay. Huddled together bow to stern, they wait for a call to duty that may never come.
The fleet may look like just a lonely, floating junkyard, but hidden among the discards are some nautical treasures and old heroes.

One is the Navy tugboat Hoga, which during the Pearl Harbor attack in 1941 rescued dozens of sailors, fought onboard ship fires, and pulled the battleship Nevada to safety.

The Golden Bear, a 1939 passenger liner that later became a training ship for sailors, and the World War II merchant ship Red Oak Victory also dwell in the fleet. Organizations are hoping to save all three vessels.

Every year, the number of merchant ships flying the U.S. flag shrinks. The ships kept in reserve by the Maritime Administration ensure that the country will not have to depend on foreign ships or build new ones if a war or humanitarian need arises.
Every day, 71 Maritime Administration workers inspect the ships for leaks, oil the engines and make sure only dry air circulates inside the ships' hulls. A low-voltage electrical system keeps corrosion from forming under the waterline.

They don't do cosmetic work, such as painting the hulls.
It's hard to describe how gigantic and impressive these ships are. The camera really gives you no sense of scale.
After we saw the Ghost Fleet, then it was time to head on back home.


A crew of near-ancient mariners sailed the Liberty Ship Jeremiah O'Brien out of the Mothball Fleet and later across the Atlantic Ocean to the 50th anniversary of D-Day. To date, she is the only ship ever to leave the Mothball Fleet under her own power.

I took these photos from the pier, to give you an idea of the size of this ship. Liberty Ships were instrumental in bringing much needed supplies (food, tanks, ammunition, anything really) to our forces during the war. Before the US entered the war, Merchant Marines sailed these ships to bring supplies to Britain.

Because of their size, these ships suffered huge losses crossing the Atlantic from German U-boats and enemy planes. Many, many sailors risked their lives every day aboard these ships.

The photos in this immediate section I took on the trip before this one. It's like stepping back in time, meeting the old sailors and seeing touches on the ship that would have been there since WWII.

This was the only surviving Liberty Ship that participated in the D-Day invasion to make the trip back to Normandy to celebrate the 50th anniversary.


So that was the adventure. Thanks for coming along for the ride.

If you are in San Francisco, you can visit the Jeremiah O'Brien any day and explore the entire ship. There are docents and volunteers (many of them veterans) who are happy and proud to show you "their" ship.

All photos taken by me, except for the one that was obviously taken from a satellite (I'm not that talented).


Christina August 18, 2008 at 5:41 PM  

These are absolutely fascinating pictures! What a wonderful collection of photos you have to add to your collection!

: )

willow August 18, 2008 at 7:09 PM  

Very interesting post! Lovely fog, lovely gulls, and even a salty sailor! :)

Jaime August 18, 2008 at 8:20 PM  

Loving these pictures...especially the seagull standing guard on the little boat. Wonderful!

Anonymous August 18, 2008 at 8:46 PM  

i really enjoyed the sailor, what a fascinating creature. God bless him. i especially loved the going under the bridge pic. wow, all of them amazing. makes me want a vacation. lol.

Anonymous August 19, 2008 at 12:01 AM  

Awesome field trip TB! Thanks for the ride.

Psyche August 19, 2008 at 12:38 AM  

Seagulls are... well, I won't say what I think of them, because last time I did one pooed on my head. Suffice to say that where I come from seagulls have run riot. They've been so fed by tourists that they think they own the place. One once took an icecream right out of my hand.

Anonymous August 19, 2008 at 3:32 AM  

Wonderful and fascinating photos :-)

You know, I've never been able to look at a seagull in the same way since watching Finding Nemo, all I hear is...

'Mine, mine' hehehhe

My Castle in Spain August 19, 2008 at 6:21 AM  

Love the sailor and you look cute as well !

this must have been fun even with the fog


Psyche August 19, 2008 at 10:13 AM  

Carol - oh, I'd forgotten that! Yes, it's just perfect, I bet that really is what they're saying!

paris parfait August 19, 2008 at 1:14 PM  

What a fascinating journey! Thanks for enlightening us about the situation vis a vis the "ghost ships." xoxox

Relyn August 19, 2008 at 9:14 PM  

Oh, wow! You always find the most amazing things to do. I adore the picture of the old guy with the pipe. You know I have a thing for old men. Did you know I also love the smell of pipe tobacco? I keep trying to get Jeffrey to take up pipe smoking, but he refuses.

I loved learning about ghost ships and imagining you their eagerly listening to old men spin yarns.

tangobaby August 20, 2008 at 9:15 AM  

Hi Christina,

It's a great place to take photos and also to challenge yourself to capture something that's so large.

I'm glad you liked the photos.

Hi willow,

The gulls are everywhere, the salty sailors...you have to sneak up on them. ;-)

Glad you liked the post.

Hi jaime,

That seagull would have stayed on the life raft all day as long as there had been donuts in the vicinity. ;-)

Hi Sarah,

I think he was my best photo that day, wouldn't you agree? And bless them all, really. They were so young during the war, one fellow I spoke with was a radio operator on a Victory Ship at age 16. Can you believe it.

I hope you get your vacation soon...I know you can use one.

Hi Johanna,

It does seem like a "what I did over summer vacation" sort of report, doesn't it? You would have liked the swing/40s music they played on board, too. I forgot to tell you about the band.

Hi psyche,

I hear you about the bird poo. Totally. (In fact, I am wearing the very same sweater that was pooped on not so long ago by that nasty pigeon.)

My mother was attacked by a seagull at the zoo years ago. It flew at her, scared her so that she dropped her "zooburger" (that's a hamburger to you) and then scarfed up the food in one second. We were so shocked and the people gave her a new hamburger, although they said that the gulls usually pick on the little kids.

That went off on quite a tangent, but mostly to tell you that I am in complete agreement with you about these naughty birds.

Hi carol,

That's really funny! Just having watched Finding Nemo not once, but twice in two days with my little niece, that part of the film is fresh in my memory.

Hi Lala,

I happen to be a big fan of fog, which is a good thing if you're going to stay in San Francisco for more than a few days.

It's very film noir-ish. Also a good reason to have lots of cute hats on hand.

Hi paris parfait,

I'm so glad you enjoyed my tale!

Hi relyn,

You know me too well, don't you. I happen to love the smell of pipe tobacco, too, but I don't think that's a good reason to get Jeffrey to start up...it's not worth the risk.

Maybe there is an incense or candle that smells like pipe tobacco? I bet there is!

You would love the old guys, too. I know you would have a ball and so would Sloane because you can climb all over the ship, like a giant playground.

Tomate Farcie August 20, 2008 at 1:52 PM  

This is a GRRRRREAT post!! I've never seen a positive comment about these ships before. Most people just complain about them, saying they pollute, they're an eye sore... I totally enjoyed the tone of this post, as well as the photographs. Thank you! (I like ships)

julochka August 21, 2008 at 2:02 PM  

very cool. where is that ghost shipyard?

i have thoughts on this:

"The ships kept in reserve by the Maritime Administration ensure that the country will not have to depend on foreign ships or build new ones if a war or humanitarian need arises."

but totally question that THESE ships you picture could actually accomplish that. :-) and i do know a bit about ships...but i'll write something about that one day...also about why less and less ships sail under US flag (let's just say it's definitely NOT a flag of convenience.."

love the pix and i'd love to see the jeremiah o'brien and be marinated in the mariners' stories...

Annie August 21, 2008 at 2:02 PM  

I'm enthralled. I can SMELL these ships. There is nothing like it. Love it.

I also wanted to let you know that I'm leaving blogging for a short while. I have a lot on my plate and creativity is taking over so nothing bad. I'll still be visiting around and commenting. I expect to be returning from time to time as I complete my writing and art projects. But for now, I need to focus only on this.


tangobaby August 21, 2008 at 4:35 PM  

Hi tomate!

I'm glad you're as excited about my adventure as I was. I think it is very easy for some to disparage what they know nothing about, and I was glad to have a very special opportunity to see these ships from a perspective that most people never could: from the water where they wait.

It really was so fascinating. I like ships too! And having the O'Briend, the Pampanito and the other ships so close by where I can go aboard and imagine history, to me, that's a HUGE treat!

Hi julochka,

You know I totally thought of you the whole time and how much you would have loved to have seen this. I wish you could have been with me! Your perspective and experience would have been amazing.

Although I did not get to read that article until I got back, it did make me wonder about the veracity of how functional those ships could be. But the O'Brien was part of that fleet and you should see her now.

What struck me most of all was the vanished industry (steel, manufacturing) that we had once that now is gone. I wonder if we even have the resources to build ships like this now if we needed to?!

Hi Annie,

Thankfully, the only smell was of the fresh air! But it was a fun time in the wind and sun, to be sure.

Good luck with all of your projects and adventures and I'll see you around flickr or elsewhere!

Anonymous August 23, 2008 at 3:48 PM  

Very interesting post and pix! We had the same experience when we visited the O'Brien - truly one of SF Bay's historic gems. Here's a link to my blog:


tangobaby August 25, 2008 at 1:34 PM  

Hi californiabeat,

Welcome to my blog and thank you for your comment. I'm so glad to meet another admirer of the O'Brien. The more I have learned about this ship, the more I appreciate its history and the people that work so hard to keep this living memorial afloat for all to enjoy.

I will be over to see what you have written about your experience.


Anonymous August 26, 2008 at 1:28 PM  

Thanks for the cool article about our ship TangoBaby. You have earned yourself a behind the scenes tour next time your aboard.-Philip -Shipkeeper

dc August 26, 2008 at 6:52 PM  

If you are in Los Angeles you can tour the SS Lane Victory in San Pedro near the cruise terminal. It was towed there from San Francisco but does sail a couple of times a year for the whole day

tangobaby August 26, 2008 at 7:57 PM  

Dear Philip,

It was my absolute pleasure to write about being aboard your wonderful ship. This is my third cruise, and I loved every minute of it.

I would be thrilled to have a behind the scenes tour with you, and I will take you up on your very kind offer. I will make it a point to let you know when I'll be there and introduce myself.

Thank you for keeping the Jeremiah sailing for all of us.

Hi dc,

Wow, and thanks! I wish I had known about the SS Lane Victory when I was in LA the last time. I am not often on So. Cal. but will be sure to put that list at the top of things I would like to see. I appreciate your letting me know and thank you for the visit here.