Bay tours and a museum will show visitors the seafaring history of Eureka

.. By Joe Hilbers

Humboldt Bay was undiscovered until early in the 19th century when the O'Cain entered the Bay in 1806. Another four decades passed before it was rediscovered in 1850 and became a major port on the West Coast.

As with so many places in the American West it was the lure of gold that brought prominence to the Humboldt Bay communities of Eureka and Arcata. Travel by ship was the only practical gateway to the gold fields discovered on the Trinity and Klamath rivers deep in the interior of a brand new State.

Soon sailing ships were on regular schedules from San Francisco for freight and passengers alike. What some early settlers, many from Nova Scotia, soon discovered was that there was another natural resource of even more value than gold.

This was the virgin forests of the region rich in pine, fir, spruce and of course the mighty Redwoods, trees the likes that none of them had ever seen before. What followed was a shipbuilding industry that attracted talented shipbuilders and artisans from as far away as Denmark.

The area produced local fortunes both in shipbuilding and lumber. Soon lumber schooners were plying the seas in all directions from the Mills of Humboldt County.

Prominent to this day in Eureka is the palatial home of lumber baron William Carson.

The North Pacific is a savage ocean and with so much ship traffic wrecks were common often with great loss of life.

The place to learn about all this is the Maritime Museum in Eureka. Here are the mementos and memorabilia of a rich seafaring history. Between the 1850s and 1940s over 42 ship disasters were recorded, and these figures did not include fishing boats.

To learn about the hazards of fishing these waters, and it is still a major industry in Humboldt County, you must go to Woodley Island in Humboldt Bay to a memorial that lists the names of fishermen lost to these seas. There are already two names listed for 1997.

The Humboldt Maritime Museum is situated close to the William Carson mansion and the County public library and is open daily with free admission. It is staffed by dedicated volunteers like Dalene Hills, Leroy Zerlang and Don Atterbury who are wonderfully well versed in the sea lore of the area. The Museum was founded in 1977 and one of its prize exhibits is a light house lens dating from the 1850s made in France by Fresnel, the master of such lens. It produced the light of 17,000 candle power.

Just a short walk away is the dock of the Madaket, the oldest passenger vessel still operating in the U.S. Built in 1910 in Eureka it enjoys historical status and was first used to ferry workmen to Woodley and Samoa Islands where lumber and pulp mills were located.

Once bridges were constructed to these Islands the Madaket was turned over to the City of Eureka as a tourist attraction, a way for visitors to explore the reaches of the Bay which includes 60 square miles at high tide. A vast array of sea birds as well as seals make their home in the Bay.

The Madaket makes several cruises each day for tourists with views of marine life, the Louisiana Pacific pulp mill, the remains of old ship building yards as well as the oyster farms that dot the Arcata bay to the north. Also to be seen is the area's fishing fleet which still accounts for some 40 per cent of California's commercial catch.

The coast line to the north and south of the Bay offers long stretches of sandy beaches and in other places spectacular cliffs drop right to the water's edge. Patrick's Point State Park, north of Trinidad, has camping and wonderful views of a rocky shore. It also has a recreated Indian village showing how the Yurok Indians lived before the coming of the white man.

And it is one of the locations used by Stephen Speilberg in making "The Lost World."

Trinidad itself is a small community with a harbor for small craft and fishing boats and is picture post card perfect as a place to visit. Close by is Moonstone beach and where the Little River enters the ocean there is the Moonstone Beach House and Restaurant. This has become a popular surfing beach and long stretches of sandy beach invite a host of activities.

Should you wish to explore Humboldt Bay on your own Hum - Boats located at the foot of F Street in Old Town Eureka offers sailing boats, canoes and kayaks for rent. Skilled guides and instructors are available here for introductions to either sailing or kayaking. For more information call 707 444-3048 or you can check it all out on line at

For the schedule of the Madaket cruises call 800 400-1849.

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Last Update:3/30/98

© 1998 Joe Hilbers All Rights Reserved.
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