Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Deserted on the Sacramento River

I am a wanderer. And a photographer. Sometimes i ask myself, am i simply wandering and the camera is just a happy passenger capturing moments along the way? Or does some image in my mind make me wander – looking to give shape to the emotions in my soul?  Either way, the other day i found myself rambling along a lonesome stretch on the banks of the Sacramento River. And as serendipity would have it, i stumbled across an old lost soul – a broken-down riverboat listing hard to starboard.

In fact, she was sunk in silt and water past her starboard rail and the water rippled softly across the main deck all the way to her port deck guards. She was an eerie sight. Doorways opened into darkness where imagined ghosts of men wandered. It sounds cliche, but the sight made me shiver and i couldn't stem the flow of questions. What was her name? Why did she sink? Who had abandoned her to this fate?  

And then, standing there on the banks of the River with the sun setting low, i imagined how haunting and magnificent she would be in the moaning winds of Autumn with swaying lanterns hanging from the upper decks and pilothouse. I would sit inside the dark doorways and watch as people stopped to whisper and wonder. Yeah. I’ve got a bit of deviousness in me – for some reason that makes me smile.

The image of that lonesome hulk stuck with me and when i came home i sat at my computer trying to find who she was, who had she belonged to…and…i found nothing. Zip. Nada. I called the Sacramento Yacht Club, which is just down river, and spoke to a very nice lady. She didn’t know anything about it either though she did say it was supposed to be moved. You know, for all the history surrounding Sacramento, i’ve come to realize that the history dwells on one thing and one thing only. Gold. If you want to know about panning, mining, or claim jumping during the mid 1800’s, there’s a plethora of material available from museums, books, to online sites devoted strictly to the gold era that California is so well-known. The history of the railway gets a nice second billing. (And if you haven’t been to the California State Railroad Museum in Old Sac, you should set aside a Saturday to view some of the best train restorations possibly anywhere in the country.)

However, Sacramento is also known as a port city. Really? Does anyone out there know the stories of the ships and sailors who sailed to this port? Sacramento was founded because it was a port. So where’s our maritime history?  Where's our museum? San Francisco? That’s the closest one i could find. There are teasing bits of info on the web, but nothing that constitutes a real collaborative collection of maritime history for a city who’s named after the River. Amazingly enough, the best local info i have found is at the aforementioned museum, the California State Railroad Museum. They have some fine B&W prints, mainly from the early 1900’s, depicting maritime traffic on the river. Yet there is so much more to discover.

I am now intrigued to the point of making phone calls - which i loath above all things.  I want to know about these ghosts of the past.  The ships.  The men who sailed them.  The tall tales of the sea and rivers.  Is there anyone out there that has some knowledge of the nautical history of the area? Who knows about this haunting ship that lies rotting on the banks of the Sacramento River – what is her story?

Other References:
1. A brief history of Sacramento,,_California

2. A history of San Joaquin Delta,
3. Historic Old Sacramento Foundation run by the City,
4. An excellent site devoted to maritime history in San Francisco Bay area which also includes lists of ships that sailed to Sacramento,
5. Recent (‘09) discovery of a sunken ship, the Clarksburg, in the Sacramento River,


  1. If you are interested in the maritime history of Sacramento, perhaps you could find some information about the brig Globe. She was recreated in 1984 to represent the hundreds of sailing ships that delivered men and goods to Sacramento (as far as deep water ships could sail up river) and then abandoned by their gold-hungry crew. The Globe was built on the Old Town waterfront by Bay Ship and Yacht and Melbourne Smith. By 1990 she was overshadowed by the Delta King and, as I understand, towed away and left to rot. I have been trying to find anything about her on the web, with no success. It's as if she never existed. Sad, she was a lovely little ship with a great story to tell.

  2. It is a sad fact of many beautiful ships in every port that they are lost for lack of funds or lack of concern. Sometimes both. I will see what info i can find regarding the brig, Globe. Thanks!