The Maritime Museum of San Diego features one of the world’s finest collections of historic ships, including The Star of India which is the world’s oldest active sailing ship. The museum’s collection also includes the 1898 steam ferryboat Berkeley; the 1904 steam yacht Medea; the 1914 harbor Pilot boat; the state’s official tall ship Californian;a B-39 submarine; and the HMS Surprise.
The museum displays many exhibits on maritime history and offers a wide variety of educational adventures for schoolchildren and the public such as historic boat rides, sailing adventures, cannon battles, family days, and other special events. For example, the museum’s schooner Californian takes passengers out on San Diego Bay and on weekend sails to Catalina Island. Visit The Museum’s website at www.sdmaritime.com to find out what’s happening and when.
CLICK HERE to take a virtual tour of the ships at the San Diego Maritime Museum.
Did You Know…? San Diego was once the tuna capitol of the world.
Every one of the ships on display at the Maritime Museum is unique and interesting in its own way. We went on the HMS Surprise first, then the B-39 Submarine, followed by the Star of India, and finally the Berkeley. If you get there a little ahead of their official opening time, they may let you on board one of the ships early which was great because we were able to get a head start and explore the HMS Surprise by ourselves before anyone else came aboard.
Movie fans will love this one! It was a great thrill to stand at the helm of the HMS Surprise just like Russell Crowe did as Captain Jack Aubrey. The HMS Surprise, from the Academy Award-winning movie Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, was acquired by the San Diego Maritime Museum in October 2004.
The HMS Surprise was originally christened HMS Rose when she was launched in 1970. The 179-foot full rigged ship served as a sail training vessel on the East Coast for over 30 years. The Rose underwent extensive modifications for the production of the film in 2002, in a painstaking effort to recreate a 24-gun frigate from Britain’s Royal Navy. The result is a replica vessel unmatched in authenticity and attention to detail.
It was quite amazing to realize how small and compact the Surprise is, when you consider how many men this type of ship would have carried on board. It’s a lot smaller in person than it looks in the movie. Also, standing at the edge of the ship and seeing how low the sides are, you wonder how the crew kept from falling overboard all the time during rough seas. No safety railings here! Those guys really had to be alert and watch what they were doing while on deck. Then consider all the noise, smoke, and confusion there would have been during battles besides!
The Surprise is kind of like two ships in one. First and foremost, it’s a magnificent replica of an 18th century Royal Navy frigate which will be enjoyed by fans of Master and Commander. When you go below, you can see the cannons, captain’s quarters, displays of uniforms, etc. At the same time, fans of Pirates of the Caribbean will enjoy all of the educational exhibits about pirates.
The B-39 Submarine
The B-39 was built by the Soviets in the early 1970’s and remained on duty by the Russian Federation until the early 1990’s. Its design was based on a World War II era German U-boat, but it was larger and more powerful. The B-39 was 300 feet in length and could carry 24 torpedoes. On active duty for more than 20 years, the B-39 probably tracked and stalked many U.S. Navy ships.
Note: Anyone who has trouble bending, crouching or climbing, or who is uncomfortable in confined spaces (claustrophobic) may have difficulty touring the B-39 submarine. There are several low hatchways to go through, steep narrow stairs/ladders, and cramped tight spaces. Our 16-year-old son who is 6’2” tall had to keep watching his head so he wouldn’t whack it on a low ceiling, doorway, or pipe. The bunks all seemed short, too – I guess a submarine is not the best place for a tall person! Finally when we got down to the engine room he could stand up straight.
Also, if you have a family member who likes to read in the bathroom, he would not be a good candidate for the submarine crew. With 78 men on board, lingering in the “head” was not tolerated. (But the sign didn’t say what they would do to you!) People in our family tend to be late quite often, too, which would not be a good idea on a submarine. In case of emergency, the crew would run through the ship closing and locking the hatches behind them, and they would not be allowed to open them again – no matter who was banging on the other side. So you definitely don’t want to be running late on a sub!
Star of India
e decades, the Star of India languished in port; it wasn’t until the 1960’s that her restoration began. In 1976, the fully restored Star of India went to sea for the first time in fifty years. The Star of India now sails at least once a year, maintained by a volunteer crew that trains year-round. Star of India is the second-oldest ship afloat, after the USS Constitution (“Old Ironsides”) which is docked in Boston. The Star of India is called the world’s oldest active ship, though, since the Constitution is not in seaworthy condition and just turns around in the harbor once a year.
The Berkeley is a historically and architecturally unique vessel from the Victorian Age and the golden age of steam. The Berkeley is one huge ferryboat! Aboard the vessel are numerous exhibits and displays, the museum store, a maritime research library, offices, workshop, model shop, storage areas, and a special events venue with room for 800 guests. Take a 360-degree panoramic virtual tour of the Berkley: http://www.sdmaritime.org/berktour/BerkeleyVT.asp
Did You Know…? During the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire, the Berkeley carried thousands of people to safety.