Historic Fishing Fleet in Fisherman's Wharf

Most of the boats berthed at Fisherman’s Wharf belong to a third generation of fishing craft piloted by descendants of the fishermen who have made their livelihoods on the waters of San Francisco Bay for many generations.

5 Whimsical Facts About the Original Fishermen of Fisherman's Wharf

    1. The original fisherman at Fisherman's Wharf were first-generation Italian immigrants who knew how to sing a mean Verdi aria, even in the thick fog outside the Golden Gate.
    2. They had a unique way of telling the weather - if the moon was in the east, the tide was coming in, if it was in the west, the tide was flowing out. A circle around the moon meant rain, and porpoises playing around the boat indicated a bad wind was brewing.
    3. The fishing boats of the past, called feluccas, were built in the same style as the boats the local Italian fishermen knew in their native land, and were usually painted green with the name of a patron saint on the hull.
    4. The fishermen used to hitch rides home by throwing a grappling hook into the rudder chain of passing steamers and would shout back in colorful language when the steamer crews called out imprecations against them.
    5. In the early days of Fisherman's Wharf, the average fisherman made just $2 or $5 a week, but a loaf of bread could be bought for less than five cents.

 

The historic Fleet at Fisherman's Wharf is a beloved attraction in San Francisco, with a rich history dating back to the 1800s. The area was originally home to a small fishing community of first-generation Italian immigrants who owned fishing boats that set sail daily to haul in a wide variety of fresh fish, crab, and other seafood to sell and eat at home. These families developed delicious recipes from the food they caught, and Italian-owned seafood restaurants soon began cropping up along the waterfront.

Today, the original fishermen have passed on, but their descendants continue the family legacy by operating restaurants established by their seafaring ancestors. The boats berthed at Fisherman's Wharf are now operated by a third generation of fishing craft piloted by descendants of the fishermen who have made their livelihoods on the waters of San Francisco Bay for many generations.

From the days of the Gold Rush until the turn of the Century, the San Francisco fishing fleet was composed of lateen-rigged sailboats, called feluccas. These boats were built in the same style as the boats the local Italian fishermen knew in their native land and were mostly green in color. The name of a patron saint usually appeared on the hull, and the fishermen themselves were as colorful as their craft.

What is a fellluca?

A felucca is a type of traditional wooden sailing vessel that was commonly used in the Mediterranean and Red Sea. It is characterized by its lateen sails and shallow draft, which allows it to navigate in shallow waters and close to the shore. The design of the felucca is similar to boats used by the local Italian fishermen in their native land. They were also used in the San Francisco Bay area in the 1800s and early 1900s.

With the introduction of gasoline engines, the "second-generation" of fishing boats, known as Monterey Hull boats, came into use. These boats were small but dependable, and the gas engine made it possible to fish more days of the year, gave a wider range for their operation in the ocean water, and provided power to haul in the nets or lines. Today, a few of these Monterey-type boats remain as a part of the fishing fleet.

The Monterey Hull craft are often likened to vintage automobiles of the Model-T era, and they ride at the harbor alongside a "third generation" of commercial fishing boats - diesel-powered craft that are larger, have more cruising capacity and are often equipped with state-of-the-art technology.

Most of the boats berthed at Fisherman’s Wharf belong to a third generation of fishing craft piloted by descendants of the fishermen who have made their livelihoods on the waters of San Francisco Bay for many generations.

From the days of the Gold Rush until the turn of the Century, the San Francisco fishing fleet was composed of lateen-rigged sailboats, called feluccasThey were built in the same style as the boats the local Italian fishermen knew in their native land. Green was the prevailing color of the tiny boats, and the name of a patron saint usually appeared on the hull. The fishermen themselves were as colorful as their craft. Their natural talent for song was to be heard in renditions of arias from Verdi, lusty if not always true to the ear. In the fog-shrouded waters outside the Golden Gate, singing was a means of communication. You could not see a nearby boat in the fog, but from the song of its captain, you knew it was there. 

The “second-generation” of fishing boats – Monterey Hull boats — came with the introduction of gasoline engines; small but dependable “putf-putts.” The gas engine made it possible to fish more days of the year, gave a wider range for their operation in the ocean water, and provided power to haul in the nets or lines. Today, several hundred of the Monterey-type boats remain as a part of the fishing fleet. 

Often likened to the vintage automobiles of the Model-T era, the Monterey Hull craft ride at harbor alongside a “‘third generation” of commercial fishing boats — diesel-powered craft which overshadow them in size; cruising capacity and are often equipped with state-of-the-art technology.

Chowin' Down on Chippino: A Delicious Dive into San Francisco's Seafood Heritage

Chippino is a type of stew that is said to have originated in San Francisco's Fisherman's Wharf area. It is traditionally made with a variety of seafood, such as fish, crab, and shrimp, and is cooked in a tomato-based sauce with vegetables and herbs. Some versions of the dish also include potatoes and beans, and it is often served with bread or pasta. The origins of the dish are said to be rooted in the Italian-American fishing community in the area, who used the catch of the day to make hearty, comforting stews.

 

In the early day of Fisherman’s Wharf, the fishermen got their news about the weather from nature instead of a radio report. If the moon was in the east, the tide was coming in; or if in the west, the tide was flowing out the Golden Gate. A circle around the moon meant rain. Porpoises playing around the boat indicated a bad wind was brewing.

Old timers around Fisherman’s Wharf have other tales to tell about the hard work that fed their families. If the boat was becalmed, they waited long hours for a breeze, or got out the oars and rowed. Sometimes they would throw a grappling hook into the rudder chain of a passing steamer and get an easy ride home. When the steamer crews called out imprecations against these marine hitchhikers, the Italian fishermen screamed right back in words that soon became a part of the waterfront.

In those earlier periods, the favorite fishing spots were outside the Golden Gate, just beyond the waves breaking on the rocks and sandy beaches. It took great skill to manage the boats so they did not drift ashore and be wrecked. In terms of money, the rewards were very low. The average fisherman made $2 or $5 a week. But, on the other hand, a loaf of bread could be bought for less than five cents.

Today, as in the past, it is the fishing fleet, operated by the grandsons and great-grandsons of these past generations, which are the heart of Fisherman’s Wharf – a place of activity; the center of a marine-oriented industry beloved by native San Franciscans and visitors alike.

Information provided by the Fisherman's Wharf Merchants Association

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