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It’s all about our river


The Petaluma River takes center stage this weekend as the San Francisco Maritime Park and Friends of the Petaluma River present River Heritage Days Oct. 17 to 19.

The annual event honors the city’s river heritage and features a sail in by the scow schooner Alma and the historic fishing boat Grace Quan on Friday, Oct. 17. Both boats, along with an assortment of other small boats, will be open to the public for touring from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 18 in the Petaluma Turning Basin. Also on Saturday, there will be a public sail on the Alma, along with a barbecue, live music and family activities at the David Yearsley River Heritage Center from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

The Alma was built in 1891 in San Francisco by German immigrant Fred Siemer, who gave the ship to his son-in-law, James Peterson. Siemer named the boat after his granddaughter, Alma. During its lifetime, the Alma carried hay and lumber, and after Peterson removed its masts in 1918, it carried sacks of Alviso salt while being towed as a barge.

The boat was purchased in 1926 by Frank Resech, who installed a gasoline engine. From then until 1957, its cargo was exclusively oyster shell. During that time, the Alma hauled 110 to 125 tons of shell per week to Petaluma, where it was ground and used for chicken feed.

The Alma was sold to Peter John Gambetta in 1943, who continued to operate it as a dredger until 1957. When Gambetta retired the Alma, it was still seaworthy, but no longer profitable.

The State of California purchased the Alma in 1959, and restoration work began in 1964. It was transferred to the National Park Service in 1978, and designated a National Historic Landmark in 1988. The Alma is now part of the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park’s fleet of historic vessels at Hyde Street Pier. It sails every season, and participates in the revived Master Mariners Regatta every May.

Scow schooners like the Alma would sail up to Petaluma and bring goods from the city that people who lived in the North Bay needed. They would then take back agricultural products, particularly hay because the main method of transportation in San Francisco at the time was horses. Scow schooners were designed so they could go up into the delta and other shallow areas.

The Grace Quan is a 43-foot replica of a San Francisco Bay Chinese shrimp fishing junk. It was built by volunteers and staff at China Camp, the place of one of the largest of the historic Chinese shrimp fishing villages in San Rafael.

The public is invited to tour the Alma and Grace Quan for free on Saturday, Oct. 18. Tickets for a public sail river tour on the Alma starting at 11 a.m. on Sunday, Oct. 19, are available for $20 per person; and free for youth under 12. Space is limited. Check in with the Alma crew in the Turning Basin on Saturday or at the David Yearsley River Heritage Center on Saturday evening to make a reservation.

The fundraising barbecue at the David Yearsley River Heritage Center is from 4 to 8 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 18, and will feature live music by the New Sun Company, activities for all ages, including rope-making, silhouette lanterns and miniature boat building. Admission, which includes a barbecue chicken dinner, is $25 adults; $10 for youth ages 6 and up; and free for kids 5 and under.

For more information on River Heritage Day, go online to friendsofthepet alumariver.org or call 763-7756.