Tuesday was another day on the waterfront in San Francisco. After a completely avoidable & regrettable communication breakdown, we met Kristy & Joel just in time to get on our booked 9.30 ferry to the Rock. Strangely, the Bay area had served up a consecutive fantastic day & it was a most pleasant short ferry ride out to Alcatraz. A very popular place to visit, I didn’t find it too crowded to get a good look around. It’s an odd island – such a beautiful setting in the gateway to the San Francisco bay with great views all around on such a day, plenty of flowers that you wouldn’t expect & a lot of birdlife (no predators). All this is contrasted markedly with it really just being a big, mostly desolate, rock with a huge old crumbling relic of a prison sitting on top.
With its history of being an army fort guarding the bay, then an army prison, then a federal penitentiary before the site of an Indian occupation & finally becoming part of the National Park system, I was fascinated. Of course, the biggest focus of the island today is the former maximum security cell block – the audio tour (the first I’ve done this trip) voiced by former guards & inmates is really well done. The cells, except solitary confinement for some reason, were smaller than I expected. It seemed as though life there was for the most part rather routine & quiet, with good meals & hot showers (so prisoners wouldn’t get acclimatized to cold water & think a swim across the bay was a good idea). Still, with the city tantalizingly close it must have been torture. The 1946 riot & various escape attempts were well detailed, as was life on the island for the children of the wardens.
Back on the mainland, we enjoyed a nice long lunch of clam chowder in sourdough bread bowls on Fisherman’s Wharf catching up about roadtrips & life in Canmore. Leaving Joel & Kristy to explore Pier 39 we headed back to the historic ships that we didn’t get the chance to wander around on Saturday. The Eureka was a big old wooden-hulled (one of the largest left) ferry from the days before the big bridges around the Bay Area. It reminded me a lot of one I went on in San Diego two years ago – there was nice little collection of old vehicles on it too. I found the most interesting to be the Balclutha – a big old three-masted sailing ship that plied quite a few different routes over its long life – curiously it used to take a lot of Californian Douglis fir to Australia for the construction of the Broken Hill mines (there’s a tenuous link to my old job at Bluescope Steel there somewhere). There was a neat little old red tug tied up – reminded me of Little Golden Books for some reason. Leaving Joel & Kristy to explore the city a little more, we returned to the hotel to do a few errands before we met for dinner.