Everything Is Ship Shape
March 8, 2016
Thanks to the Chilean Fresh Fruit Association wanting me to write an article for them (you see, I do work occasionally), recently I was afforded the opportunity to mix a little business with a lot of pleasure down at the Port Of Los Angeles in San Pedro.
Ostensibly, my job entailed writing a story about Chilean fresh fruit being unloaded at the port, which I parlayed into a nice boat ride and a visit to the nearby Los Angeles Maritime Museum. As an added bonus, it turned out to be one of the most beautiful days weather-wise I could remember.
I arrived early for our 10 a.m. sendoff, and after parking near the museum, I walked over to check out a nearby sculpture. The American Merchant Marine Veterans Memorial sculpture is named Jacob’s Ladder. It depicts two merchant marines climbing a Jacob’s Ladder (a rope ladder with wooden rungs for climbing up the side of ship) after making a daring rescue at sea.
As you can see, the day was clear enough that the snow-capped mountains located nowhere near the port almost seemed to be touching the water. L.A. smog…just a myth! in any case, the view was pretty magnificent.
Speaking of magnificent, as we made our first turn there was the Battleship USS Iowa (see my report in California Dreaming) looming larger than life. If you ever have the chance to tour the USS Iowa, it is a great experience (I’ve been twice).
After a visit to the USS Iowa or the Maritime Museum, Ports O’Call, with an array of shops and restaurants, might be worth exploring.
Shortly thereafter we spotted the Port Of Los Angeles Warehouse #1, which was completed in 1917. It served as the Port’s only bonded warehouse, a function that was critical to Los Angeles’ entry into international trade markets.
We made a slight detour to check out the vessel that brings in a lot of the fruit you enjoy from December through April. This particular ship brought in 6,000 pallets of grapes, plums, nectarines and peaches from Chile. Fortunately, the Chilean fruit folks had brought a plentiful amount of bags of grapes on board for the passengers (and me) to enjoy.
The Port of Los Angeles is the largest port in the western hemisphere, and we were able to check out where the huge containers are unloaded…
Although you can’t see them in the photo, sea lions like to frolic, relax and get a tan near the ships.
We navigated under the Vincent Thomas Bridge, the fourth longest suspension bridge in California and the 76th longest span in the world. Nearby the port has installed cranes that are totally automated for unloading cargo. I wondered how that got past the Longshoreman’s Union.
On the way back to dock, we passed by a couple of other cargo vessels…
…got up close to the USS Iowa…
The Los Angeles Maritime Museum, which was formerly the Municipal Ferry Building, dates back to 1941. From the San Pedro website, “the building was the base for an auto ferry which crossed the channel at regular intervals from San Pedro to a sister building on Terminal Island. It served navy personnel, fishing industry employees and people who wished to avoid the long circuitous route through Wilmington and Industrial Long Beach. With the completion of the Vincent Thomas Bridge in 1963, ferry operations ceased, and the building became an overflow office for the Harbor Department.”
Fortunately the building was not demolished, but instead restored to house a museum. The website said that you could “try your hand at tying any of the 64 types of seaman’s knots on display.” Although that was “knot” for me (I was having Cub Scout knot-impaired memories), the tour of the museum was quite enjoyable and enlightening, however not without an early mistake by yours truly.
Admission to the museum is $5 (cash only). I only had $4 cash on me, but they let me in anyway. After the tour, I saw the sign that said anyone 62 and older got in for $3. So my “senior moment” cost me a buck. No problem…it was worth it.
I headed up the ramp and before I could say “Humphrey Bogart,” I was standing near the Maltese Falcon. Unlike the movie falcon, this Maltese Falcon is a motorized yacht built in the late 1960s in Malta.
One of the first ones I came upon was the Mayflower, the ship that carried 103 pilgrims to America to avoid religious persecution and to learn how to cook turkeys for Thanksgiving (I had some weird history teachers).
The next ship was rather cool, because we had seen the larger version in London on our 2013 trip. The Golden Hinde, captained by Sir Francis Drake, circumnavigated the globe between 1577 and 1580. In London, there is a full-sized reconstruction, the Golden Hinde II.
The lens was made in Paris in 1911 and remained in service until 1987. (check out Point Reyes Lighthouse in California Dreaming for another cool Frensel lens…below photo from Point Reyes).
I hung out at a Neptune painting for a bit. “During their spare time, sailors often create useful or decorative objects fashioned from wood, rope, paper, or whatever materials are available to them. Their ships and their experiences at sea are often the subjects of their work. Some of the results of their creativity are featured in this ongoing exhibit. They are certainly among Neptune’s favorites.”
If I had wanted to, I could have taken the wheel of an old sailing ship, but I didn’t want to be arrested for robbery (I might have misunderstood the “taken” part).
Although this looks like a nurses outfit, it is actually what the ladies working in the tuna canneries wore. According to the sign, “San Pedro pioneered the technique of canning tuna in 1903, and world-famous brands such as Star-Kist and Chicken of the Sea had local origins.”
Next I headed “under the sea.” There are displays commemorating the work of underwater commercial divers. They had a replica of a typical diving locker. “The suits, helmets, tools, and equipment you see have all been used to construct and maintain the underwater infrastructure of the South Bay. All of the items were used locally.”
Abalone divers were featured, too. “In 1901, 15 divers from Wakayama-ken prefecture in Western Japan established an abalone fishery a few miles northwest of San Pedro at White Point. This is a Japanese abalone diver at work off White Point. After the diver uses his pry bar to remove the abalone from the rock, he stores it in a net sack. The diver’s assistant (called a tender) works in the boat above, taking care of the diver’s air hose and other needs. When the diver fills his sack, he will tie it to the rope lifeline so the tender can haul it up and send down an empty sack. A typical sack weighs 60 pounds.”
I stepped out the back door for a moment, and there was a tugboat docked next door,…but not any tugboat. The Angel’s Gate was built in 1944 and “and was among the fleet of tugboats designed for the European theater” in World War II. If you’re a museum member, you can even get a ride on it.
Before heading out the exit I stopped by the Navy Hall, which was being revamped. It should be open soon with all the exhibits.
The only thing of note in there was a replica of the “flying bridge” of the USS Los Angeles, a United States Navy heavy cruiser, commissioned in 1945. Although decommissioned in 1948, it returned to service in 1951 to fight in the Korean War, where it received five battle stars.
There was also a miniature version of The USS Long Beach.
Whether you pay $3, $4 or $5, if you are inclined to enjoy nautical memorabilia, the Los Angeles Maritime Museum is a worthwhile stop (I think kids would find it fun, too), especially if you take a tour on the nearby USS Iowa beforehand. Ship ahoy!
Los Angeles Maritime Museum
84 East 6th Street
San Pedro, CA 90731
Hours: 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. Tuesday – Sunday (last entry 4:30 p.m.)
Suggested Donation: Adults $5 • Seniors $3 • Clueless Seniors $4 • Kids under 12…Free