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Stateside With Rosalea: Hello Sailors

Stateside With Rosalea

Hello Sailors

Being a child of the fifties, I have a fondness for WWII memorabilia. And when that memorabilia takes the form of an actual, functioning Liberty Ship going on a cruise from San Francisco to the inland port of Stockton (where your California summerfruit is shipped from) then there's no holding me back.

(One of the SF streetcars that runs from the Castro District via the Ferry Building to Fisherman's Wharf.)

The trip took place on 3rd July so the SS Jeremiah O'Brien could be in Stockton over Independence Day weekend. It was a typical San Francisco summer morning - foggy and cold - but by the time we got into the Delta several hours later, the volunteer crew were running around handing everyone bottles of water, and the sun-sensitive were shuffling their deck chairs from one side of the ship to the other as it wound its way down the sinuous San Joaquin (wah-KEEN) River.

(SS Jeremiah O'Brien)

If that sounds like a very Titanic sort of thing to do, it was appropriate in the sense that the engines you see in the movie of that name are the engines of the Jeremiah O'Brien, blown up to three times their actual size. Liberty Ships were "built by the mile and chopped off by the yard", and Franklin Roosevelt called them ugly ducklings. But they were his gift to Britain, taking food and ammunition to that country faster than German U-boats could sink them.

(The colours of the Merchant Marine.)

They were built in sections all over the US, welded together by Wendy the Welder and her ilk, and manned by merchant mariners. The Merchant Marine dates back to 1775, and this ship is named after a Scots lumberjack who lived in Maine. He captained a privateer named the Unity and won the first naval battle of the Revolutionary War. The WWII Liberty Ships crews were non-military but small Navy crews were on board to man the guns. They sailed in convoys at a mere 10 knots, escorted by a couple of Navy vessels.

(About to take aim.)

Most of the Jeremiah O'Brien was open to the public during the voyage - the gun tubs, the engine room, the 'flying bridge' where the captain was at work, along with the ship's museum and store. You don't have to wait for a voyage to visit the ship, as it is berthed at Pier 45 year-round and open for visitors 7 days a week, 9am-5pm.

(Part of the entertainment.)

The voyages are fun though, and the price includes food and entertainment. The traditional food for Independence Day celebrations is the barbecue, which we enjoyed late afternoon as we cruised through the Delta listening to Natural Gas, a well-know local jazz band. We were served a light breakfast and lunch as well, and all the beer, soft drinks and water we could drink.

(Crew and passengers enjoying the day.)

The greatest part of the entertainment is the ship itself and the folks on board, many of whom sailed on similar ships. We were also treated to the presence of an FDR lookalike, a fly-by of a WWII aircraft, and a commentary about the various settlements we passed. By the time we were into the Delta, with its hundreds of sloughs full of holidaymakers, the ship was the local entertainment and we had dozens of small boats and jetskis following us or buzzing alongside, for all the world like we'd just returned from a conflict somewhere.

(Tugs about to nudge us into our berth at Rough and Ready Island, Stockton.)

The next similar voyage will be to Sacramento later in the year. That is the voyage that the goldminers took when they left San Francisco, and the Jeremiah O'Brien will tie up alongside Old Town, the city's living history museum. Find out more about the volunteers who restored and run this ship at


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