Saturday, May 26, 2012

The Argos of the Golden Gate -- May 26, 2012

Even though the Manila Galleons had sailed down the coast past the entrance to the Golden Gate for 200 years, the first European ship to sail through the Golden Gate into San Francisco Bay was the packet boat San Carlos, commanded by Captain Juan de Ayala, on 05-August-1775. I didn't understand how they could miss it till I went whale watching many years ago and saw how the hills blend together. That in combination with the frequent fog made the Golden Gate difficult to spot. In light of the Golden Gate Bridge's 75th birthday, I thought it would be nice to include an image of the Golden Gate before the bridge was built.

The writer may have meant "Argo" instead of "Argos,"  The Argo was the ship of Jason and the Argonauts.  Argos is a city on the Peloponnese in Greece. 

"The stately ships pass in to the haven under the hill" is a quote from Alfred Lord Tennyson's short poem Break, Break, Break."   

George Davidson was a scientist a broad range of interests, including geography and astronomy.  

"La Bonita" does not mean "The Bishop's Bonnet."  The point to the north of the Golden Gate is called La Bonita because it is pretty.  

From the 22-November-1896 San Francisco Call. William A Coulter did many maritime drawings for the newspaper. Click on the image to see a larger version. 



STANDING above the Golden Gate where "The stately ships pass in to the haven under the hill," one asks where is the pioneer — the Argos — the ocean pathfinder of the navies that have come and gone through that narrow water way for over a century? The flotillas of the world has harbored in the peaceful bays of Yerba Buena, but in what eternal anchorage has moored the leader of the fleet?

From the manuscripts of Professor George Davidson it is learned that in the early part of the year 1775 a number of vessels left San Blas for exploration on the coast of Alta California. One was the San Carlos, better known as the Toyson de Oro (Fleece of Gold), and under the command of Juan Bautisla Ayala. She sailed the farthest north to survey the port of San Francisco, discovered by Portala (Portola - JT) six years before. On August 5 she arrived off the entrance to a beautiful, almost landlocked bay which they could see in between the headlands.

The launch was lowered into the water and a crew sent away to examine the approach to the harbor. They were gone all the afternoon. and soon after nightfall, the moon making everything around almost as plain as day and the light breeze blowing directly in-shore, the San Carlos sailed through the Golden Gate and dropped her anchor off what is now the Presidio.

It is interesting to read a paragraph from the ship's log, as it were, on that first night in San Francisco Bay, written by Professor Davidson 121 years after: "The sun set at 7.05 local mean time, and the moon at twenty-seven minutes after midnight; the prevailing westerly winds blew strongly in through the harbor headlands; the high water was at 6.23 in the evening and was 4.5 feet above low-water plane; low water at 11:36 a. m., high water again at 6:09 p. m., five feet above low water plane."

The launch returned to the ship next morning, the exploring party in her having camped on the shore of Carmelita Bay -— the Sausalito of to-day. The San Carlos then hove up her anchor and found good moorings between the highlands and an island which Captain Bautista de Ayala called La Isla de Nuestra Senora de los Angeles, a name later considerably shortened down to Angel Island.

The officers of the vessel surveyed the "Grand Estero" of Yerba Buena, and the San Carlos returned to Monterey about October 1.

Some light has been shed upon the subsequent end of the San Carlos by the following letter of March 28, 1797, written by Diego de Borica, Governor of California, to Pedro de Alberni, sergeant of artillery, stationed at the Presidio of San Francisco (translation):

"By your official letter of the 24th inst., which I received yesterday evening, I am advised of the misfortune which happened to the 'paquebot' San Carlos on the 23d inst., which, having made sail for this port, on account of the roughness of the weather, the dullness of the vessel and the insufficiency of the crew, was driven upon a rock lying directly under La Bonita, the shock so injuring the vessel that, if the wind and tide had not favored them, all hands would have perished, but finally they reached Yerba Buena and made a landing at a point to which the vessel was carried by the wind and tide."

"This landing," says Professor Davidson, "was doubtless under Clarks Point, near the northern end of Battery street, and here General Vallejo says a sunken wreck was pointed out to him in 1829 as being the wreck of the San Augustin, which, he has erroneously stated, was wrecked near Tomales Bay in 1595, and subsequently drifted from that place into San Francisco Bay. As no other vessel was sunk in this vicinity before Vallejo saw the wreck, we may safely conclude that it was the remains of the San Carlos which were pointed out to him."

Hence from such eminent authority as that of Professor Davidson it may be believed that the storied San Carlos finally laid her bones to rest on the shores of the noble sheet of inland sea she first sailed over. Jason's classical craft, after her memorable voyage in search of the Golden Fleece, was hoisted up to the stars, and in the constellation of Argo Navis she sails in the glory of the celestial seas. But this more real and more modern Argos, called — strangely — the "Fleece of Gold" (Toyson de Oro), after leading the way to a shore more valuable than Jason and his argonauts ever dreamed, was left to rot under the wharves of the bay she found.

Following the San Carlos came the trader and the whaler, gathering the products of the new shore and sea. Presently the mountains began to unlock their treasure troves, and a gleam more golden than ever came from the cavern of a genie flashed across the continent. Then the ships failed in between the headlands of the "Bishop's Bonnet" (La Bonita) on the north and the Point of Wolves (Lobos) on the south. In all shapes and conditions they crowded through in the wake of the pathfinder — the ship strangely and fittingly known as the "Fleece of Gold." Around the stormy Horn they labored and from the Russian possessions near the Arctic they steered for the port of El Dorado.

Even across the Pacific from the walled in Orient drifted the craft of the East freighted with eager seekers after the wealth lying hidden away behind the Coast Range.

It was a mighty assembly that fleet, but the great bay among the hills could hold them all and the wide-open harbor door welcomed the squadron in.

 Following the fierce hunters of the mountain treasure came the quieter inhabitants of the valleys — the people who delved in the soil, not for the golden ore but for the fertility that brought forth the golden harvest of corn. Then the sheaves lay like manna on the slopes and the wheat ships gathered in the bay. The products of vineyard and field piled upon the wharves along with the output of the mine, and the grain, the grape and the gold of the new empire in the sunset poured into the vessels that followed the San Carlos into the harbor beyond the two frowning headlands.

Such is the story of the new Argos -— the ship of the "Golden Fleece" -— so aptly named, that opened the western gate of the New World and was left to rot on the shores of the harbor she found, as told in the old dusty Spanish archives of the dim long ago.

The splendid picture that accompanies this article was drawn by W. A. Coulter, the well-known marine artist, from a sketch of the San Carlos made by Fra Vicente Maria, the chaplain of the vessel who was one of her complement on her entrance into San Francisco Bay. It is an accurate representation of the high stem and high stern ships 121 years ago. She was a man-of-war, as the guns that look frowningly from her rounded sides testify; and the boom of that battery was the first warlike sound that rang over the blue waters of Yerba Buena.

It is the intention to give in the columns of The Sunday Call a series of articles, illustrated by Mr. Coulter, describing the different types of ships that have rendezvoused in this harbor since the San Carlos came in that calm, moonlit evening long ago. No port in the world can show such a cosmopolitan fleet. The sail of the north and the south, the east and the west find a safe haven here. Verily, a mighty queen sits by the "grand estero" lying within the Golden Gate.

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