News & Tall Tales. 1800s.

Spar Making

Monday, April 26, 1858, Daily Alta California, San Francisco

Spar Making in San Francisco

The clipper ship Mary Robinson, lately arrived from New York, now lying at Pacific wharf, has just had completed three yards, which she requested, to wit: a fore and main yard, each 76 feet long by 20 inches in diameter, and a fore topsail yard, 60 feet in length by 16 inches in diameter. They are a beautiful job, and show that in point of economy and elegance, the workmanship of our city is not surpassed in the United States.

Rudimentary treatise on masting, mast-making, rigging.

They were made of Oregon timber (spruce pine), by D.C.M. Goodsell, Beale street, and are remarkable not only for their symmetry but for the extraordinary size. A number of seafaring persons were gathered about these spars as they were place on the wharf, and the question arose as to the relative expenses of repairing a ship in San Francisco and in Honolulu.

It was finally decided that although the prices of labor were a little higher here, the cost of the lumber was much less, and so much was saved in San Francisco in expedition, that the expense would be considerably greater in the islands than an this port. There is also a certainty here that such jobs can be done with dispatch, and competition necessarily reduces the prices of the work. It has been the custom for whalers desiring to refit, to have their new spars made at the islands, the lumber for which is shipped there from Puget Sound. This is unnatural, involves unnecessary expenses and should as soon as the true facts are made known, be totally discontinued. Ships may receive every species of repairs here at much cheaper rates than in the islands.

Monday April 26, 1858, Daily Alta California, San Francisco

Ad from the Daily Alta California.

February 12, 1872, Sacramento Daily Union, Sacramento, California, U.S.A.

A Serious Accident

The Vallejo Recorder of February 10th records this accident:

A very serious accident happened yesterday afternoon, resulting in the loss of a great toe from a blow with an ax. The young man who met with the misfortune was Edward Murphy, a lad of seventeen, who is an apprentice at the spar-making trade. He was hewing a stick of timber that was lying near a stanchion: as he was in the act of striking, the ax in its descent struck the stanchion and glancing off struck him upon the foot, severing the great toe completely from it. The blade went through the second joint In a diagonal manner, severing the phalanges or the toe. The services of Dr. Woods were called, who said to again set it in place was out of the question, as the joint was cut and it would not heal. The only remedy to save the foot was amputation of the toe further back, and the bone was sawed off squarely, and the skin brought over it and sewed. The lad is a bright one and stood number one at his examination. He has met with several accidents before, but of no such seriousness as this one. He is the main support of a widowed mother, who it will be remembered lost her husband two years ago on the yard by a swinging boom that killed him almost Instantly.

February 2, 1892, San Francisco Call, San Francisco, California, U.S.A.

The Ship Orissa Dismasted in a Collision on the Bay.

She Dragged Her Anchor and Crashed Into the Gowanburn— No Help Came for Hours. Both Vessels Are Badly Damaged.

The British ship Orissa, which recently arrived at this port from Newcastle, N. S. W. met with a most remarkable accident on Sunday night. The vessel was lying at anchor in Mission Bay when suddenly she began to drag her anchor, and it was not long before she collided with the British ship Gowanburn with a crash that could be heard half a mile away.

Spars and Rigging. 1849. Nautical Routine.

The accident occurred at about 10:45 o'clock, and what makes it remarkable is that at that hour there was very little wind, although it was raining heavily. The shock dumped most of the sailors out of their bunks in both ships, and thoroughly frightened they tumbled out on deck, but were forced to go below again to escape the falling spars and rigging that came crashing down on the decks of both vessels.

It was pitch dark and no one on either ship dare venture out on deck, though even if they had they could have done nothing, as the strong tide kept the two ships crashing and grinding with considerable force. Realizing that assistance was urgently needed, Captain Gerhardt of the Gowanburn, who was on board his ship, ordered rockets and blue lights fired as a signal for the tugs, but, owing, no doubt, to the rain and mist that hung over the bay, his signals were not seen by any one on shore.


At last a boat from the ship Ben Dowran came alongside and inquired what was the matter. The watchman of the latter vessel had heard the crash of the colliding ships and had called his captain, who himself could hear the sound of the heavy spars as they were being torn out of the luckless vessels.

"Some ship has run into us and we want tugs as quick as possible." shouted Captain Gerhard "and, for God's sake, send them out as quick as you can." But it was nearly three hours before the side-lights of a tug were seen as she steamed up the bay on her way to the scene of the disaster.

In the meantime, loud cries and hoarsely shouted orders from the officers of both ships could be heard amid the snapping and crashing of the heavy spars, as they were torn from their fastenings aloft and fell to the decks with a force that made both ships tremble from stem to stern.

At last lights were procured, and than it was seen that the Orissa was lying right across the bow of the Gowanburn, which being light, towered high above her, while her massive steel bowsprit was literally tearing spar after spar out of the Orissa as if they had been fish poles instead of the heavy iron masts and yards of a big ship.


It was nearly 1 o'clock when the first tug arrived, and she proved to be the Etna of the Bed Stack Company. About an hour later the Wizard of the same company arrived, and the work of separating the two ships commenced. This proved no easy task, as the ships were so locked together that axes had to be used freely to clean away the mass of spars and rigging that bound the two together. Even then it was slow work, because all the standing and much of the running rigging was steel wire rope.

In spite of the efforts of both crews, aided by the men of the tugs, it was after 7 o'clock yesterday morning before the ships were cleared of each other and the hands could realize the amount of damage that had been done. The Gowanburn came out of the contest with very little damage compared to what the Orissa suffered, that vessel being almost a wreck so far as her spars and rigging is concerned. She is also badly damaged about the hull.

A reporter visited both ships yesterday ami found the crews hard at work clearing away the wreck. The Orissa is the worst looking wreck and is far more seriously damaged than was the British ship Jessoniene after her battle with the elements about a year ago. Not one of her three masts escaped, and the foremast, which is the only one not carried away, Is badly sprung, and her decks are covered with broken spars and tangled rigging.


A. Yachtsman's Guide to Rigging.

The mizzen mast is broken off flush with the deck, the mainmast twisted and sprung, the main topmast broken off at the sheave hole, the main topgallant mast is hanging in the rigging in three pieces, both the main topsail yards are broken and hanging in the rigging, while the lighter yards and all the upper rigging lie on deck in a tangle that will take days to clear away. The portboat was torn from its lashing, and was lying partly on the rail and partly on deck.

The heavy iron skids are twisted like so much wire. The spanker boom lay on the poop deck, while the rail around the poop deck on the port side had also been torn away. The Orissa had her port side toward the Gowanburn when she struck, and the force of the collision tore away the bulwarks on that side for a distance of fully seventy-five feet, and crushed in the heavy iron waterways as if they were paper. The upper line of plates just below the waterways are damaged, while the decks are full of holes caused by the falling spars. The Gowanburn, in turn, lost all her headstays, and several of the backstays on the port side are also carried away. Her lower rigging on the port side is badly chafed, and part of the alter rail and one davit are also gone. The starboard cathead is badly damaged, and this was caused by the mizzen mast of the Orissa falling on it.


The mass of wreckage that hung on the Gowanburn's bow had to be cut away, as it was found impossible to haul It on board. The Orissa's mizzen topsail and topgallant yards lay across her bow. and were saved, but both are badly sprung. After the tangled mass of spars and rigging was cut loose from the Gowanburn's bow it sank and fouled her anchor badly, so that the service of the red-stack tug Sea King had to be engaged to clear it, the work lasting over ten hours.

Shortly after the ships came together Captain Gerhardt shouted to the crew of the Orissa to let go the second anchor, as both ships were beginning to drag, and because the anchors of the Gowanburn could not hold both ships against the strong ebb tide. The men of the latter vessel say that so far as they could see no one was on the Orissa's deck at the time of the collision, because they shouted to them and received no answer.

The officers of the Gowanburn claim that they had two men on deck besides the third mate and they all saw the Orissa before she struck, but her anchor light was burning very dimly and they thought the Orissa was farther away than she really was. Before they realized the danger the collision occurred. The rockets and blue lights were fired by the crew of the Gowanburn because the Orissa had none on board.


Edward Hagin, the watchman of the Orissa, denies the story told by the crew of the other ship that no one was' on deck on his vessel. He told The Call reporter that he saw the ships drawing near to each other, and thought that the Gowanburn was the vessel that was dragging. He shouted to her, asking where they were going with the ship. He says he did not realize that his own ship was dragging until after the collision had taken place. Hagin is an old man and belongs to the Orissa.

Captain Kenny of the latter vessel was on shore at the time and when he returned to his ship he was dumfounded to find her a complete wreck. He lost no time in useless inquiries, however, but took off his coat and began the work of clearing away tile wreck. The Wizard and Etna still had hold of the ill-fated ship at sundown, while Captain Kenny and his crew were hard at work clearing the anchors, which were badly fouled. What the damage will be will not be known for several days, but it will cost at least §20,000 to repair the two vessels.


Fifty Wooden Boats. Building Plans. Wooden Boat Magazine.

It is thought the accident was due to the Orissa swinging around her anchor and capsizing it, as there was not nearly enough wind at the time to cause her to drag if her anchor had been clear. The wonder is that no one was hurt by the falling spars; but by good fortune not a scratch was received by either of the crews in spite of the great Quantity of wreckage that incumbered the deck of both vessels.

Many of the broken spars were floating about the bay yesterday, and will be a source of considerable danger to bay travel until picked up, for should any of the ferry steamers run against one of them end on it would smash her bows in and perhaps sink her.

October 1, 1892, Marin County Tocsin. Marin County, California, U.S.A.

Nova Scotia shipbuilders intend loading a large vessel with Oregon pine masts to be used in the sparmaking trade in Nova Scotia.

The Naval Order of the United States has a history dating from 1890. Membership includes a wide range of individuals, many with highly distinguished career paths.

The San Francisco Commandery meets the first Monday of each month at the San Francisco Italian Athletic Club in San Francisco, California and holds two formal dinners each year.

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Maritime Nations, Ships, Sea Captains, Merchants, Merchandise, Ship Passengers and VIPs sailing into San Francisco during the 1800s.




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Sources: As noted on entries and through research centers including National Archives, San Bruno, California; CDNC: California Digital Newspaper Collection; San Francisco Main Library History Collection; and Maritime Museums and Collections in Australia, China, Denmark, England, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Wales, Norway, Scotland, Spain, Sweden, etc.

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