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USS San Francisco Memorial Foundation
C/O Art Curtis
P.O. Box 318063
San Francisco, CA 94131-8063

415-334-0263
415-350-0531
Art Curtis: awcurtis@comcast.net

 

San Francisco Shipwreck Walk offers historical look at coast

Memorial Air View Memorial Map

SHIPWRECKS EVOKE images of catastrophe, treasure and ghosts. On San Francisco's Shipwreck Walk, you get a glimpse of that realm, as well as world- class views and a pleasant hike.

It starts near Lands End and Cliff House. It heads toward China Beach for 1. 25 miles on a bluff-top dirt trail, poking in and out of a cypress forest. The round-trip of 2.5 miles on this Coast Trail segment takes about an hour.

On the way, sharp-eyed hikers can see remnants of four ships. They're among 30 vessels that have wrecked close to shore.

This Shipwreck Walk can be do-it-yourself. But it's better shared with historian Rich Harned, a volunteer for the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Harned's professorial air is blended with the zest of a self- acknowledged "history nut."

"During low tides," Harned said, "you can see the masts, posts and boat pieces sticking up."

Harned starts at the park benches next to the USS San Francisco Memorial on Camino Del Mar (just off 48th Ave). After a short introduction, off you go on the Coastal Trail. And out come the cameras.

The views can make your jaw drop: the Golden Gate Bridge, Marin Headlands, passing ships, surf, seabirds -- and if you're lucky, a glimpse of the Farallon Islands 25 miles out to sea.

Near Point Lobos, Harned points out a metal spar sticking from the water at an angle -- the sternpost of a sunken ship.

"The Ohioan," Harned said. "Went down in October of '36."

Harned described a foggy night, back when electronic navigation devices would have sounded like science fiction. "The ship was headed inbound, came up alongside Point Lobos and got in the rocks," he said.

"A huge storm broke the ship up into three pieces. What we see in down here is the sternpost off the back third of the ship. On a very low tide, I've done some scrambling down in places you're not supposed to go and found the hull of the ship."

Harned explained that the Coast Trail was once a rail line, providing transport for San Franciscans to the Sutro Baths at Lands End. A landslide wiped out the railroad in 1925.

At another viewpoint, Harned stopped and pointed. "There," he said. Emerging from the water's surface was what looked like a huge chunk of metal, and nearby a metal pole.

"The Lyman Stewart," Harned said. "The Frank Buck." He explained that the chunk of metal is the engine block of the Lyman Stewart, and that the pole is the sternpost of the Frank Buck.

The Lyman Stewart became lost in fog, Harned said, then turned across the shipping lane, and was rammed by a freighter. "The Walter Luckenbach."

Near China Beach, a fourth shipwreck can be spotted, the Coos Bay. "You can only see it at minus tides," he said.

To learn about shipwrecks, Harden searched archives of The Chronicle and Examiner for accounts of all shipwrecks in the past century. Now, he can point out vestiges of San Francisco history, and also transport you back in time, to relive it.
 


SHIPWRECK WALK GETAWAY

-- Cost - Parking, access and guided walks are free.

-- Rules - Hikers, leashed dogs, and mountain bikes permitted. Bikes must be ridden slowly, and walked on narrow trail sections.

-- Directions -- In San Francisco, take Geary Blvd. west to the sea (it becomes Point Lobos Ave.). Across from Louis' Restaurant is the Merrie Way Parking Area. Walk a short way north on 48th Ave./El Camino Del Mar to Coastal Trail.

-- Contact -- Fort Funston Ranger Station, (415) 239-2366; Golden Gate National Recreation Area, Fort Mason, Building 201, San Francisco, CA 94123; (415) 561-4700

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