Life on the Barbary Coast

Day Program

The year is 1906; a devastating earthquake and fire has laid San Francisco in smoldering ruins. Much of the population is sheltered in tent cities, and doubts are being expressed about the city’s survival. Still, San Francisco is a port town, now more than ever. A forest of masts circles the waterfront and hundreds of tall ships are loading and unloading their cargoes from around the globe; lumber from Oregon and Washington; fish from Alaska; textiles from England; sugar from the West Indies; and rice and tea from China. The wharves, bringing these cultures together, in turn create a world
of their own.

The regular crew of the cargo ship Balclutha have jumped ship to fight fires and help their families, or in some cases simply to take advantage of the pandemonium in town for nefarious purposes. The Balclutha’s Captain is left with only his first and second mates, that latter of which he’s sent ashore to find a replacement crew willing to man the ship on her sail to Oregon for lumber. The students or "lads" as they’re known arrive at Hyde Street Pier and are taken by the second mate as the new crew. While the Captain is displeased at their apparent lack of seamanship, he agrees to take them on and the individual crews are set to the task of readying the ship and learning the sailor’s life.   

The program takes place aboard the Balclutha, a 300-ft Square-Rigged Tall Ship built in 1886 for the California grain trade, now permanently berthed at the Hyde Street Pier. This unique location within the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park allows students to experience what life might have been like had they been part of the sailing trade 100 years ago, while also introducing a sense of stewardship within the National Park system they have inherited.

Throughout the 4-hour program, students explore maritime history by becoming “sailors” themselves; as they learn the language of the sea, the skills needed to row and maneuver a one-ton longboat, or the confidence and teamwork to raise each other off the deck in a Bosun’s chair, they become a part of this history. By requiring the students to be active during the program, emphasis is placed on building self-esteem, a sense of responsibility, respect and cooperative learning skills. These skills are not just useful on the vessel or in the classroom, but throughout the students’ entire lives.

  • Grades: 4-6
  • Time: 10:00am to 2:00pm
  • Group Size: 20 to 35 students and 4 to 8 adults
  • Cost: Flat fee $850 for up to 27 students, for 28-35 students add $35 each; adults are free (max 8 adults)
  • 5th Crew Life on the Barbary Coast Programs: 36 to 45 students and 5 to 8 adults (Flat fee is $1,500 for up to 36 students)
    Cost: $45 per student, adults are free (max 8 adults)
  • Life on the Barbary Coast teachers manual PDF format, 17 pages/1.18 MB
  • Life on the Barbary Coast supplemental Info PDF format, 34 pages/2.17 MB.
    Adobe Reader required.
    to get Adobe Reader, click here

For more information or to make reservations, please contact Education Coordinator, Alice Watts via email, or call (415) 561-6662 x 1004


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Version 2.04, 2 June, 2017