On the Waterfront: ‘All hands to the pumps’

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IN 1957, the rusting hull of a Wear-built ship was salvaged from San Francisco Bay’s Oakland Mudflats for prospective conversion into a floating restaurant.

We look at how she frequently courted misfortune during her long career.

Originally the 533-ton iron barque, Sharpshooter, the vessel was built by TR Oswald’s shipyard at Pallion in 1860 for James Beazley and Son of Liverpool.

Later sold to Dumont & Co of Le Havre and renamed Madeleine by 1870, she reverted to her original name in 1884 after being bought by James Cole Ellis of Sydney, New South Wales (NSW), for whom she traded between Australia, Mauritius and New Zealand.

On February 2, 1891, while carrying coal between Newcastle, NSW and Noumea, New Caledonia, Sharpshooter sprang a leak as she pitched and rolled in atrocious sea conditions.

Within a space of almost two hours, her hull became flooded to a depth of nearly seven feet.

“All hands to the pumps,” ordered Captain GF Davies, but before long, the gearing broke down, placing the pumps out of action. As desperate attempts were made to repair them, the crew’s only option was to bale out the water with buckets.

On the morning of February 4, an offer of assistance from the steamer, Te Kapo, was declined as the weather had abated and the repaired pumps were coping with the leak. Eventually, a tug towed Sharpshooter into Port Jackson.

In September, 1895, her crew put up a heroic fight when she was almost overwhelmed in a hurricane off the Mexican coast, while on a voyage from Peru to San Francisco with a cargo of nitrate.

Under the command of her then principal owner, Captain Theodore Thomas Watts, who was accompanied by his wife and three children, the derelict and dismasted ship drifted helplessly for 64 days before being picked up by the Mexican steamer, Oaxaca and towed into Guaymas.

Eventually, she was towed the 1,860 miles to San Francisco by Spreckels Tugboat Co’s Fearless.

Re-rigged as a barquentine in 1896, she re-entered commercial service for a syndicate of waterfront merchants. The venture was not a success and she was laid up.

In September, 1904, now named Ruth and owned by Western Fuel Co, she was moved from Oakland to Folsom Street Wharf, where she was fitted with engines and self-dumping hoists for a new role of transporting coal to ships in San Francisco Bay.

At the end of World War One, Ruth collided with the submarine USS R-19, but was repaired and put back into service.

In 1923, she was beached and abandoned on Oakland Mudflats after being rammed by a tanker.

Whether the hulk ever became a floating restaurant is uncertain.