C. A. Thayer
By Richard A. Thayer, Editor
The C. A. Thayer is a wooden-hulled, three masted schooner with a long and colorful history. The last of her kind afloat on the West coast, the C. A. Thayer has hauled lumber, fish, coal, and war materials. She has survived 2 near sinkings and at nearly 100 years old requires much work to prevent her loss to wood rot.
The C. A. Thayer was commissioned in 1895 by the E. K. Wood Lumber Company of Hoquiam, WA for $2,000, a 1/16th share. This lumber company supplied lumber to San Francisco and other California ports. The ship was named after a partner in that firm: Clarence Allen Thayer (1852-?). Clarence must have been a senior partner in this firm to hold such an honor as having a ship named after him.
Clarence Allen Thayer was born January 8, 1852 and was from Gainsville, Wyoming County, NY. We are not sure if Gainsville was his birthplace. His lineage is as follows; Clarence9, Charles8, David7, Jonah6, Jonathan5, Jonathan4, Jonathan3, Ferdinando2, Thomas1. About 1854 Clarence married Clara A. (_____). Clara was born in November of 1854 in NY. The couple had 5 children, the first 3 born in Michigan and the last 2 born in Oakland, Alameda County, CA. Our last record of Clarence is the 1920 Census which lists him as living alone in San Francisco, CA.
I am a married man and, being the loving husband I am, I would immediately see a unique situation here. If my wife’s initials were the same as mine I would name the ship the C. A. Thayer and tell my wife I named it for her! This is pure speculation on my part but this coincidence must surely have been apparent to Clarence.
The C. A. Thayer was built by Hans Ditlev Bendixen (1842-1902), born in Thisted, Denmark. The C. A. Thayer was the 86th of 110 ships built by Bendixen at Humboldt Bay, CA. She was also 1 of over 400 ships built on the West coast for the lumber industry. The C. A. Thayer is 156 feet long with a beam of 36 feet. She has a hold that is 11 feet 10 inches deep and was rigged with masts 130 feet tall and 30 inches in diameter at the deck. The ship was built almost entirely of Humboldt Pine (Douglas fir). She was designed to carry 575,000 board feet of lumber, 50% of which was carried on the main deck.
As a working ship the C. A. Thayer did not lead a glamorous life but it certainly was varied and interesting. From 1895 to 1912 she carried lumber for the E. K. Wood Lumber Company. In 1908 she tore her rudder off and was stranded on Grays Harbor Bar. In 1912 she was nearly lost in a gale off Humboldt Bar with 7 men and 1 woman as crew.
In 1912 the C. A. Thayer was bought by the Bristol Bay Salmon Company. On April 28 she left San Francisco on her first salt salmon fishing expedition. From 1912 to 1924 the C. A. Thayer made winter trips to Australia, again carrying lumber and returning with coal or copra. The year 1918 was of particular interest for both good and bad events. The C. A. Thayer was trapped for days in arctic ice, was nearly sunk during an in port storm at Fort Bragg, had a record salmon season bringing home 6,000 barrels with another 6,000 sent home on another ship after only 28 days of fishing. She also made her second trip to Australia in 1918 and while carrying a cargo of 575,000 board feet of clear redwood she sailed for 2 days through a sea of floating volcanic pumice. On her return trip, carrying copra, she sailed through a broken up raft of logs “for as far as a man could see.”
In 1925 the C. A. Thayer was purchased by the Pacific Coast Codfish Company of Polsbo, WA. She made summer trips to the Bearing Sea with the last successful voyage in 1931. The C. A. Thayer was mostly “laid up” during the depression of the 1930’s until purchased by the U.S. Army in 1942.
From 1942 to 1945 the C. A. Thayer was stripped of her masts and used as an ammunition barge by the U.S. Army. She spent most of these 3 years of war service at Prince Rupert, BC. She was purchased back from the Army by the Pacific Coast Codfish Co. and from 1945 until 1950 she was a codfisher and the last commercial sailing vessel on the West coast. In 1950 she had a record haul of 190,000 codfish for her final working voyage.
From 1954 to 1957 the C. A. Thayer was owned by an entrepreneur who used her as a tourist attraction the “pirate ship”,Black Shield, in Lilliwaup, WA.
In June of 1957 the State of California bought the C. A. Thayer for $25,000 for the maritime museum at San Francisco. This began the final voyage home for the C. A. Thayer. This last, 14 day voyage may be the last time the C. A. Thayerwill ever be under sail. The trip was a disappointment in many ways to the few old salts and several volunteers who brought her home.
There was little wind and a trip the ship once made in 4 days took 14 and ended with the Captain calling for a tug.
This last trip of the C. A. Thayer is detailed in the book: The Schooner That Came Home The Final Voyage of the C. A. Thayer by Harlan Trott, Cornell Maritime Press, 1958. The author inter-mixes the last voyage with the history of the C. A. Thayer as taken from her logbook and the reminiscences of the men and women who sailed her.
The C. A. Thayer may be visited at the Hyde Street Pier, California State Maritime Historical Park, San Francisco, CA. She is designated as a National Historic Landmark and is in need of repairs that may surpass $6 million. Other ships on display include the 1886 square-rigged Balclutha, steam tugs Hercules and Eppleton Hall, and the ferry Eureka, the world’s longest floating structure, complete with antique automobiles on her car deck.
The Hyde Street Pier is west of Fisherman’s Warf and is open daily from 10 to 5. Admission is $3 for adults and $1 for ages 12 to 18.
Many thanks to those who provided materials for this article. Paul G. Thayer of Staunton, VA, loaned me his copy of the book: The Schooner That Came Home. Patricia Thayer Muno provided the genealogical information on Clarence A. Thayer and a copy of an article from Sunset Magazine, March 1994. Raymond A. (Rick) Thayer provided a magazine article on the C. A. Thayer. Richard A. Thayer, Editor.