|Christian Lind holds his daughter, Cassie, in front of the old San Diego Ferry Jericho at Mare Island. The vessel is destined for dismantling in Alameda. (Chris Riley / Times Herald)|
A now-derelict ferry boat with a storied past is nearing the end of its journey along the Mare Island waterfront.
A failed Antioch project that drained nearly $3 million from city coffers, the San Diego ferry boat had a long life transporting people and autos in Southern California and Washington.
But the boat's latter half of life was not as fruitful and it came to Vallejo by way of the state's efforts to rid the Delta of junked boats.
Jerico Products vice president of operations Christian Lind said he stepped up when the state asked him to tow the boat.
"We're basically helping out the state," Lind said.
Lind put two of his tug boats into high gear last month, towing the rusted vessel from Horseshoe Bend, a slough near Decker Island a few miles north of Antioch, to Vallejo.
It is a curious sight among the firm's assortment of cranes, barges and other equipment at its berths 16, 17 and 18 on Mare Island.
Unlike the Suisun Bay Reserve Fleet ships coming to Mare Island's Allied Defense Recycling (ADR) for dismantling, the San Diego will not be dismantled here.
Instead, it will be towed to the Bay Ship and Yacht Company in Alameda where it will be broken down, with parts sold for scrap, Lind said.
An immediate neighbor of ADR, Jerico Products moves barges and tugboats for a variety of uses, including dredging, and sand and gravel removal and distribution. The firm also accommodates crab fishing boats which unload their pots along the Mare Island waterfront onto refrigerated food trucks, Lind said.
The San Diego has drawn many curious people to Jerico's berths, though they are trespassing if they walk along the firm's waterfront area without permission, Lind said.
For 30 years the boat plied the waters between Coronado and San Diego, but new bridges put the ferry out of work, according to historical accounts. The Olympic Navigation Company in Washington bought the boat, and it ran between Whidbey Island and Port Townsend from 1970 to '74.
Then, the independent ferry company went out of business, and the San Diego was eventually abandoned along the Vancouver waterfront. The ferry nearly made it back into operation after the Hood Canal bridge sank in a storm in 1979 and ferries were desperately needed, but Washington state officials balked at the cost of restoring it.
In 1984, a Coronado entrepreneur bought the ferry with a grand scheme to return it to San Diego and convert it into a floating dinner theater. But politics intervened and the plan went nowhere, according to a Coronado Eagle & Journal newspaper story.
The entrepreneur, instead, moved the boat to Antioch in 1987, and proposed a similar venture. That scheme also failed. A $2 million city-guaranteed loan was defaulted on in 1989, and Antioch's redevelopment agency took on ownership, according to the newspaper story.
Antioch officials tried to lure restaurant and card room operators, but eventually cut its losses, selling the boat to a Sacramento investor for $130,000. The investor and a few others tried business ventures but legal and political hurdles proved too much.
Eventually, the boat was abandoned and slid further into decay. While in the Delta, Lind said homeless people lived on it, and the boat was set on fire, gutted and vandalized.
Almost like a ghost of its former self, the boat could be seen floating around the Delta after breaking loose of its moorings, said one of Lind's employees, Henry DeWitt.
As he watched the lifeless rusted vessel float peacefully in the Mare Island waters, DeWitt said he's heard from people who remember fondly riding on the San Diego long ago.
Soon, memories will be all that remain of the once-prominent ferry boat.
Contra Costa Times staff writer Paul Burgarino contributed to this report. Contact staff writer Sarah Rohrs at firstname.lastname@example.org or (707) 553-6832.
Source: The Times Herald Online. By Sarah Rohrs. 12 February 2012