Larry Clinton/Sausalito Historical Society
“She once was known by every ship’s captain in the Pacific as Galilee, a well-built little thing with awesome speed. Such a reputation was nothing to be ashamed of for a gal who happened to be a ship. And quite a ship she was.” That’s how Marin Scope writer Jay Casey described the brigantine Galilee, proud holder of the sailing speed record between San Francisco and Tahiti.
In a poignant 1971 article, Casey detailed the sad decline of what had once been “a beautiful lady with a glorious history.”
Built in Benicia by Captain Matthew Turner, Galilee led many lives before being beached in Sausalito at the foot of Napa Street where Galilee Harbor stands today. Here are some excerpts from Casey’s article:
From 1891 until 1905 the Galilee served as a cargo and passenger ship for Capt. Turner, making runs to and from South Pacific Islands. Many of her passengers were missionaries, which is why the biblical name Galilee was chosen. During this time the Galilee once raced to Tahiti in 19 days and another time made a return trip in 15 days. Turner’s fleet was the main link between the South Seas and the rest of the world. The seven little packets—as they were called—had been built for speed so they could carry perishable fruits from the South Seas to San Francisco. The Galilee could log 308 miles a day.
Yet the speediest of sailing ships could not compete with steamers and when they came to the South Pacific, Galilee was done. In 1905 Capt. Turner chartered her to the Carnegie Institute for the purpose of making oceanic magnetic surveys which would help correct maps. To fit the Galilee for the magnetic expedition, hemp rigging was substituted for the steel rigging, and, so far as was practicable, all iron was removed from the observation stations. These changes reduced the deviation corrections due to the disturbing influence of iron. In fact, they were reduced to such an extent that the Galilee was considered the most ideal ship for ocean magnetic observation in her time. She inspired the Institute to eventually build its own ship, the Carnegie, for future expeditions. The Galilee logged 63,834 nautical miles during its charting cruises, which ended in May of 1908.
The year 1909 was a bad one for the Galilee. Soon after Capt. Turner’s death in 1909 the ship was sold to the Union Fish Company which changed the sleek vessel into a three masted schooner and put her into the Alaskan fish trade. She was ingloriously bounced around the fishing industry until 1936 when Capt. John Quinn bought her and set her up as a residence. By 1947 the Galilee was part of a community of stationary vessels and her sailing days were obviously over. But she still caught the attention of passers-by. A narrow wharf had been built out to the ship and at night a string of old San Francisco gas lamps illuminated Capt. Quinn’s famous abode. Mrs. Quinn was an amateur horticulturist and her potted plants gave the deck, from which the masts had been removed, a botanical atmosphere. They lived on the Galilee until 1958 when Quinn decided he was too old for the houseboat life and moved to the Monterey Peninsula. For Capt. Quinn it was a difficult separation.
Photographer Walter Leaskin moved into the Galilee with family until 1962 when Sausalito condemned 22 vessels, including the Galilee, as being unfit for human habituation. On November 19, 1962 John Lord King, a Trustee of the San Francisco Maritime Museum, bought the Galilee with the intention of making her a landmark. King, who also happened to be a stockholder in Sausalito Properties, Inc., which owned much of the city’s waterfront, wanted to “preserve some of the waterfront’s historical flavor.” But King died before he could activate his plans.
The Historical Society’s Margaret Badger wrapped up the tattered shards of Galilee’s history in her 2009 Marin Scope column:
In 1975, long-time Sausalitan and boat-lover Ron MacAnnan (owner of the Trident-Ondine building) working with the Maritime Museum and the State of California and Aquatic Park, convinced the City of Sausalito to let him chain saw off a 20’ section — the whole stern — for restoration. MacAnnan volunteered the machinery and labor, along with Herb Madden who loaned a tractor loader and Barry Hibben who negotiated the use of a crane, to remove the transom, barge it across the bay to San Francisco, and heft it up onto land.
Today, the restored stern of the Galilee is on display at Fort Mason. In the mid-1980s, the Benicia Historical Society and the Benicia Historical Museum Foundation removed the bow of Galilee and moved it to Benicia where it presently rests at the Benicia Historical Museum.
As a dramatic tribute to Galilee’s glory days, the nonprofit Call of the Sea constructed a replica of the old brigantine, named the Matthew Turner after her creator. The tall ship is moored at the Corps of Engineers dock, where she is available for educational cruises, including public sailings on Friday evenings.