Monday, October 05, 2009

Notes from my travels: San Francisco Part 2

Moored immediately astern of the USS Pampanito is the Liberty Ship S.S. Jeremiah O'Brien. I first became aware of Liberty Ships through reading the Clive Cussler novel Deep Six and the good, if rather downbeat 80s thriller, The Panjang Incident by Charles Ryan. I never thought I would climb aboard one!

It's a long way up: Liberty Ships are big!

2,710 Liberty Ships were produced in the US to a British design but there are only two left which are operational and, in fact, the Jeremiah O'Brien is due to sail next weekend. the concept was to build merchant ships at a rate faster than the Germans could sink them and millions of Americans, a third of them women, worked at the eighteen shipyards that churned these out on a production line that developed many of today's welding and prefabrication techniques.

Looking aft over one of the giant cargo hatches

The Jeremiah O'Brien was built in just 56 days in Portland, Maine and was launched on June 19th, 1943.

She made four transatlantic crossings in convoy. Her fourth voyage to the UK saw her diverted to shuttle duty between Britain and Normandy where she made 11 trips supplying the Normandy beach head. She came under air attack and was targeted by both bombs and torpedoes.

The engine room. Most of the engine room scenes in the film Titanic were filmed here. When they run the ship today they only have three people in the engine room.

After this she made some further voyages to the Pacific before sailing into San Francisco in January 1946 where she was mothballed with hundreds of her sisters. Many of these ships were sold into commercial ownership (Aristotle Onassis,Stavros Niarchos and Stavros George Livanos all bought dozens of Liberty ships), scrapped or sunk as artificial reefs.

Looking forward from the stern

In 1978 it was decided to preserve a Liberty Ship in unaltered, original condition and the Jeremiah O'Brien was chosen, partly because of her excellent condition. The ship still sails several times a year and in 1994 sailed to Normandy to take part in the fiftieth anniversary of D-Day celebrations; the only vessel to have been at Normandy in 1944 and for the celebrations fifty years later.

The four inch gun at the stern

A Liberty ship would have had a civilian crew of 43 plus US Navy personnel to man the defensive armament. Today they can sail her with a crew of just 12.

The Navy gunners' quarters

Most of the Liberty ships were named after prominent Americans. Captain Jeremiah O’Brien (1744–1818), from Maine, was in command of the privateer Unity when she captured HMS Margaretta during the American War of Independence; the first time a British ship struck its colours to an American one.

Also on board is a rather good diorama presented to the ship by the French.  It is of a Liberty ship supplying a Normandy beachhead. My little boy would have wanted to take the case off and start playing!

All in all an excellent attraction and a demonstration of how the Americans are much better at preserving their maritime history than we are.

Fresh fruit tomorrow, I think

Well, tomorrow is my last day in San Francisco as I fly to Phoenix, Arizona tomorrow. I had a huge breakfast at the Fairmont today so didn't need lunch. Today's beer was the very fruity Sierra Nevada Pale Ale which I have had bottled in the UK but this was on tap and much better. Probably the best beer I have had so far.

I have also been working my way through a bottle of Flowers Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir 2007 as I worked today (yes, I actually had to do some work!). A very cherry almost Beaujolais appearance and I suspect it could do with another couple of years in bottle. A blend rather than a single estate wine. Lots of cherry and raspberry in the taste too. Very nice!

1 comment:

  1. That diorama is absolutely brilliant.. very very good.... and I had no idea they used those big flat barge type things to offload vehicles onto... wouldn't fancy one of those if there was any kind of a sea running!

    Have to agree with you on the beer comments (again) not tried it draught, but the bottled version is one of the best of the US export beers I've tried...