Vallejo Chapter Pt 1
The Old Ferryboats Of Sausalito

By Annie Sutter
 

At low tide, the ferryboat Vallejo rests in the mud near Waldo Point. At high tide, the 100 year old hull rises with the water and lifts its cumbersome load of peeling wood, weatherbeaten decks, pilot houses. smokestacks and chimney caps. New walls. new windows, an extension here, a platform there ‑ the anarchist additions accumulated over the years have changed her lines so that she can no longer truly be called a ferryboat. More like a comfortable and sprawling place for living, creating and gathering together that grew, like the old woman's shoe, as the years went on. And as the years went on, time and attrition went on, weathering. battering rusting, decaying. Yet, the superstructure is still in tact, the Swedish iron hull still floats, the living spaces are comfortable, and the benign spirits of past tenants are said to reside on board.
 

At low tide, the ferryboat Vallejo rests in the mud near Waldo Point. At high tide, the 100 year old hull rises with the water and lifts its cumbersome load of peeling wood, weatherbeaten decks, pilot houses. smokestacks and chimney caps. New walls. new windows, an extension here, a platform there ‑ the anarchist additions accumulated over the years have changed her lines so that she can no longer truly be called a ferryboat. More like a comfortable and sprawling place for living, creating and gathering together that grew, like the old woman's shoe, as the years went on. And as the years went on, time and attrition went on, weathering. battering rusting, decaying. Yet, the superstructure is still in tact, the Swedish iron hull still floats, the living spaces are comfortable, and the benign spirits of past tenants are said to reside on board.

A new lease on life is in the air for Vallejo, from new owner Marion Saltman; a gentle, delicate yet determined romantic whose major resources are her dreams and her conviction that Vallejo must be saved from the wreckers and restored. Although Marion has lived on board since 1971 it was not until 1981 that she became the owner of the old ferry, although she prefers to be considered a "guardian." There are those who estimate that the restoration would take over a million dollars. There are those ‑who believe it could be accomplished for $300.000. Marion simply believes in doing one thing at a time. "We'll paint the smokestack yellow again, and fly new pennants, fix the gangway and bring back artists and shows and seminars ... and we'll sit at the long table and talk about what we can do...one thing at a time."

Marian Saltman, Vallejo's "guardian."
Merne Sigler photo.

Those whose lives were touched by the old ferry are many. They were different from one another, yet part of a center that drew artists, philosophers, poets, mystics, writers, bon vivants and dreamers, to Vallejo "It's like the Orient Express," says Marion. "I mean, this boat is a mighty thing ‑ it has a magnetic attraction, and people who had experiences on the boat suddenly light up, and remember... I had a great experience here ... a tea ceremony with the fog swirling all around ... morning, with marsh birds, strutting at the grassy edges of the bay. A little girl, now a woman, remembered playing hide and seek under the seats on the way to Mare Island ... .a gruff old sea captain visited his old pilot house to reminisce. Think of the millions of passengers who rode over the years ‑ part of the magic of a ferry is the accumulation of all the souls that stepped on board. Remember Varda and his art and his parties and his love of life ... and explorations into mysticism and the humanist movement... people came here from all over. The gathering place for the waterfront community of the 50's and 60's ‑ that was the Vallejo.

As the years went on, and the artists and writers and dreamers moved on to other places, the slow disintegration of the old ferry went on, a common phenomenon aptly paraphrased by Varda, "boats are always 'Irving to commit suicide."

 
However, a centenarian can be expected to be in need of some care and restoration as 100 or more years grind on. There are two stories about Vallejo 's origins. She may have been built in Portland, Oregon in 1879, commissioned by San Francisco Bay's Rodeo/Vallejo line. Research proves that iron hulls were being built in Portland in the 1870's. However, there's another story told by the son of an early owner of Vallejo, Victor Rauhauge, who can be found today at his restaurant on the Vallejo wharf where the ferries once landed. "Oh, I don't remember just how I know," he said, "but it was common knowledge that Vallejo was built in the East in 1871 and came around the Horn under her own power. Old sailors who passed through Vallejo in the 30's told of seeing her sister ship at work in Virginia. Here, look at the Bill of Sale ‑ it says a wooden vessel built in Portland in 1879. Well. the hull is iron. What they did was build a wooden house on an existing iron hull ‑ and that's why you have two dates of origin.
 
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SS Vallejo 36 Varda Landing Sausalito, CA 94965 info@vallejo.to