San Francisco – Everyday Insider! (TM) Trip 19F

We’ve been investigating the vast expanse of Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. It’s a magical place, and it’s a wonderful place to meet the locals!

As promised, I want to share a little bit about an important relic which was in the Park for nearly 70 years, but was removed to Norway, to protect it.

As a teen, I can remember coming to visit famed Norwegian explorer, Roald Amundsen’s little ship the “Gjøa” (pronounced “Joe”) on its perch near the beach just off the Great Highway.

It was a poignant setting as the ship was hauled up the beach, in 1909, onto its dry-dock after being the vessel for the first successful expedition to find and navigate the legendary “Northwest Passage”!

This is the sea route which let sailors come from the eastern side of our continent up over the top, through a free-from-pack-ice route to the western coast.

In perpetuity, Roald Amundsen will always be one of the world’s most important explorers. From 1903 – 1906, he and his crew were not only the first to navigate successfully the Northwest passage, from the Atlantic to the Pacific, but along the way, Amundsen’s expedition also determined the position of the Magnetic North Pole.

And this epic adventure was complete when the 28 years old, 69-foot, 48 ton sailing sloop, “Gjøa”, anchored off Point Bonita, outside the Golden Gate of San Francisco Bay in 1906. Its arrival was greeted with great celebration and acclaim, and so much pride was evidenced in the Norwegian community there.

The Norwegian community purchased the little sailing ship and gave it to the City as a reminder of its brave compatriot. The little, former herring-fishing vessel was given a place of honor in Golden Gate Park.

The “Gjøa’s” crew of 6 was quite lucky to survive that ordeal, to ever arrive in San Francisco! One additional crewman died of pneumonia in the 3rd. winter of the expedition. Vicious Arctic storms and massive waves constantly tossed the little ship, which was MUCH smaller than the usual Arctic vessels.

In 1903, over-wintering in a safe harbor in the Far North, Amundsen learned about the land and sea and animals from the local Inuit (the Nattilik). The survival skills he learned from them played a large part in the success of his later exploration exploits.

In one serious incident, Amundsen concluded his sled dogs were about to jump overboard (in an instinctive effort to save themselves).

He issued an order directing the crew not to express the slightest fear. So, as the dogs raced around the ship, they stopped at each crewman’s post in an effort to read their faces. But they were unable to decipher just how close to death their masters knew they were.

In the sixties, my parents used to drive us up the Great Highway often. I used to enjoy seeing the little ship and contemplating how amazing these people were to be in such a tiny vessel braving the freezing oceans, and for Amundsen to have bet all his worldly goods on the endeavor. It was an inspiration, to me of what excellence, vision, dreams, honor and courage were all about.

Yet, other young people (in succeeding years) began to vandalize the historical ship and San Francisco did not protect it properly from weathering, either, after a refurbishment in 1949. So, suitably chastised, the ship was taken to where she would be properly cared for.

Today the “Gjøa” is doing well inside the National Maritime Museum in Oslo, Norway, where Amundsen is a familiar national hero. San Francisco returned the ship in 1972. And the “Gjøa”, having gone through a detailed restoration, now draws thousands of visitors each year. San Francisco’s loss, Oslo’s gain. Deservedly so.

Amundsen later became the first human to reach the South Pole; he accomplished that in 1911. Then, he used a larger, better-equipped ship, the “Fram”, owned by the newly-birthed Norwegian nation. He then became quite a successful lecturer and writer.

In 1920, Roald Amundsen sailed through the “Northeast Passage”. And, later, his expedition was the first to fly over the North Pole; he went in the dirigible airship Norge in 1926 with Riiser-Larsen, Lincoln Ellsworth and Umberto Nobile. Amundsen disappeared in 1928, on an expedition to save Nobile.

San Francisco had a wonderful piece of history, but failed to take care of it. However, you can still be part of the epic. Stand at the Norwegian granite stone marker, in Golden Gate Park, on Ocean Beach near the historic Beach Chalet. The marker is at the intersection of Great Highway and John F. Kennedy, Jr. Drive, on the right when you are traveling north on Great Highway. You can learn more there.

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©2010 mystic at Travel Vacation Review

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