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A Vision from the Past Sails into the Future

By Atissa Manshouri | Photos Courtesy of Call of the Sea

Sausalito is synonymous with sailboats, and among the thousands of vessels harbored in its waters, none is more majestic than the tall ship Matthew Turner. With a main mast soaring 100 feet above its deck and eleven sails to harness the wind, the 132-foot brigantine gracefully commands the waters of the San Francisco Bay, all while delighting onlookers with its cinematic presence.

Those lucky enough to catch sight of the Matthew Turner in its unfurled glory could be forgiven for thinking they’ve traveled back in time; the ship is modeled after the legendary late-nineteenth century ship Galilee, but instead of ferrying passengers and freight between the Barbary Coast and Polynesia, this tall ship carries Bay Area students and other marine enthusiasts on sea-sprayed adventures.

Named for the renowned shipbuilder who designed the Galilee, the Matthew Turner is more than just a historical replica, it is also a modern technical marvel, one of only two vessels on the sea able to generate energy needs under sail. “Underneath the nineteenth-century rigging, it’s kind of like a Tesla, with two electric motors and a regenerative propulsion system,” says Steven Woodside, Executive Director of Call of the Sea (COTS), the Sausalito-based educational nonprofit that operates the Matthew Turner.

The brigantine, which launched in 2020, is one of two traditionally rigged ships that sail the San Francisco Bay under COTS’s stewardship. The other is the 82- foot schooner Seaward. Originally founded in 1985 (and later merged with Educational Tall Ship Inc. in 2015), COTS increases access to the water and emphasizes environmental engagement by providing hands-on, team-oriented sailing experiences that connect students to their watersheds, ocean environments, and nautical heritage.

There are myriad reasons why twenty-first century students should learn about nineteenth-century sailing techniques. Woodside points to the many examples of applied mathematics and physics that can be taken back into the classroom after a day of raising sails and pulling lines aboard the Matthew Turner. Out on the water, students also come face-to-face with the changing shoreline of the San Francisco Bay and the environmental issues their generation will be tasked with solving. Furthermore, says Woodside, “People who can work together as a team improve their communities.”

Community is at the heart of the organization, and the Matthew Turner would not exist without its dauntless cadre of supporters. In a monumental, seven-year undertaking, volunteers clocked over 120,000 hours building the ship by hand, using plans devised over a century ago by the ship’s namesake. “I don’t know that anyone could have foreseen what a tremendous community-building endeavor this would become,” says Woodside, but given Sausalito’s deep connection with its waters, the city’s embrace of its newest tall ship should not come as a surprise. “Sausalito has such a rich maritime history,” he says. “From its earliest days, the city offered ‘safe harbor’ to just about everyone. Back in the nineteenth century, tall ships anchored in the calm of Richardson Bay, and then during Prohibition, bootleggers offloaded their contraband onto the little wharves and piers throughout Sausalito.” Maritime culture continues to play an essential role in the town today, its unofficial motto being, “Keep Sausalito Salty.”

While students are the core participants in COTS’s educational sailing programs, the organization also offers community sails on the Matthew Turner as well as sunset and photography sails to the public. “We want to appeal to anyone who sees the ship out on the Bay and says to themselves, ‘What’s that?!’ as well as people who already know they love the excitement of screaming through the Golden Gate on a 25-knot wind.”

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