Home' Work Boat World : November 2015 Contents The Golden Gate
With CAPTAIN GEORGE LIVINGSTONE
Crossing the Bar
The world of the mid-ninetieth century was, for the most part,
shaping into what we would begin to recognise today. The
transatlantic cable was completed, tramcars started running in
London and the flushing toilet was invented.
The famous White Star Line was founded in time to make use of
the newly opened 190km Suez Canal. Abraham Lincoln became
President of the United States, making history as he went along.
Queen Victoria was starting her long reign in G reat Britain that
would see its end at the beginning of a troubled 20th century.
Prince Mutsuhito of Japan became Emperor Meiji, marking the
remarkable rise of Japan to world power that would end with
While all this was ongoing much of the world was still empty,
especially in countries like Australia and the United States. The
West Coast of the United States was one such place: the population
of the entire coast did not match that of a single East Coast city
like New York. Located about in the middle of a very long national
coastline is San Francisco, which by 1850 was in the beginning of
explosive growth that would take it from small sandy town to
major world city and port.
The catalyst for the explosion of growth was gold. Gold
discovered in such quantities that it not only drew people fro m
across the United States but from around the world. One story told
derives the name “Golden Gate” from the massive quantity of gold
that was taken out by ship through the gate, the entrance of the
bay. Hundreds and hundreds of ships sailed into the bay only to be
abandoned and left to rot in the anchorages; the captains, crews
and passengers literally jumping ship to find their fortune.
What does this long coastline look like? “The Pacific Northwest
coast of the United States is one of the most wave-swept seaboards
in the entire world,” explains the US Coast Pilot. “It stands directly
in the path of the massive North Pacific winter storm fronts. From
out at sea, this rugged continental land mass appears both
primitive and impenetrable. Underwater reefs, rocks, ancient
forests and jutting headlands define the shores.”
“Mark Twain once wrote that the coldest winter he
had ever spent was a summer in San Francisco”
San Francisco Bay and its tributaries are protected by an
immense semi-circular sand bar that extends some six nautical
miles out from lands’ end. This “Bar port” entrance is not to be
taken lightly as eight- to nine-metre swells can pile up on it during
the worst of winter storms. Winter swells stacking up against this
coastal bar port have traveled the length of the Pacific Ocean,
originating in the great storms of the Western Pacific.
As to the bay itself, it is actually a bay and estuary system
encompassing almost 400 square miles with two different rivers
(Sacramento and San Joaquin) feeding into it. From the sea buoy to
the farthest inland ports, Sacramento and Stockton, it is over 100
nautical miles and includes an ocean bar crossing, bay estuary and
finally a river transit for seagoing vessels destined to said ports.
There are over 200 nautical miles of federal navigable channel and
10 distinct ports within the greater bay complex. Tidal range is
approximately two metres and the Golden Gate entrance sees
currents up to six knots each month. Wind is a constant, with
afternoon breezes in the lower bay of 25 knots an almost everyday
occurrence. The famous American writer Mark Twain once wrote
that the coldest winter he had ever spent was a summer in San
Francisco. The bay and estuary along with the two river systems is
considered one of the most complicated piloting grounds in the
Over 8,500 ships a year enter the Golden Gate representing a
wide variety of trade. There are more tank vessel terminals than
any other port on the west coast of the United States, and there is
significant bulk trade involving scrap, steel, coke, salt, rice, etc.
Some of the largest containerships in the world call on the Port of
Oakland, w hich also exports significant amounts of refrigerated
products, dairy, agriculture, etc. There are major vehicle import
facilities, and cruise ships frequently call at the port of San
Francisco (about 85 cruise ships per year). In total, tens of billions
of dollars of import and export trade pass under the Golden Gate
Bridge each year, a vital contribution to California, the eight single
biggest economy in the world.
“Independent authority in international marine
transportation is no small matter”
In the United States, the individual state takes responsibility for
pilotage and pilotage law. Passed at the first meeting of the
legislature at Pueblo de San Jose on December 15, 1850, was, “an
act to establish pilots and pilot regulations for the port of San
Francisco.” Think on that: one of the very first laws established by
the new state regarded pilot regulation. Its importance continues
to the present day.
The individuals tasked with the responsibility for safely
bringing in and out all ships are the 58 members of the San
Francisco Bar Pilots, each a partner and owner of the business.
This includes ownership and responsibility for three “ocean”
pilot vessels and two “bay” pilot boats. It is a similar business
model to the Le Havre pilots, covered in the September column.
As in Le Havre, the pilots also run the business, requiring the
efforts of more than thirty percent of the pilot group. The
president of the group is the only pilot of those elected to run the
business who does not do “double duty”, piloting ships and
running the business. This is a critical point: the pilots are
entirely self-sufficient, running the business and piloting the
ships without public monies or gover nment subsidy. In addition
and perhaps most importantly is the pilot’s unique role: the
single independent mechanism within the greater transportation
system safeguarding the public trust. Independent authority in
international marine transportation is no small matter , especially
when that authority is looking after the safety of the greater
public, ship, shipping line and shipper.
As winter ends for our friends and colleagues in the southern
hemisphere, it approaches those of us in the north. Along with
winter come the great North Pacific storms and so it is that the
pilots will bear down, checking our float coats, lights and
emergency beacons in preparation for what one hopes and prays
will never occur.
14 November 2015 WORK BOAT WORLD
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