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Sailing Vessel Wawona

Wawona is a Yosemite Indian name for the Northern Spotted Owl, which was believed to be the guardian of the forest. Ironically, the schooner Wawona was built to haul lumber logged from the magnificent virgin forests of Northern California and the Pacific Northwest. The Wawona served her first owners well. The three-masted, "bald-headed" (having no topmasts) Wawona is the largest three-masted schooner ever built on the west coast of North America. Constructed by master shipbuilder Hans Bendixen at Fairhaven, California, for the Dolbeer and Carson Lumber Company of Eureka, California, the Wawona is a proud ship of 165 feet in length, 36-foot beam, a 12-foot, three-inch draft, and a gross tonnage of 498 tons. The vessel began its career in September 1897, as a lumber ship, making quick runs up and down the Pacific Coast. In 1914, after 17 years of carrying lumber, the Wawona was sold to the Robinson Fisheries Company of Anacortes, Washington, for employment in the Bering Sea cod fishing trade. By 1940, its crews had landed an impressive 6,830,400 cod, a world's record for a catch by a single vessel. Commandeered by the U.S. Army during World War II, the army removed its masts and used the proud ship as a barge to haul supplies from Puget Sound to Alaska. There it was reloaded with yellow cedar for the Boeing Company's use in making airplane wings. Thus, the Wawona served in all four of the largest industries of the Pacific Northwest. The Wawona was re-rigged in 1946, and worked two more seasons in the codfishing trade. Its final commercial voyage was in 1947. The Wawona then sat idle in port for nine years. In 1952, Captain Ralph E. Petersen sought to turn the Wawona into a South Seas cruise ship, but his dream ended because of financial shortfalls. Even its 1953 purchase by cattle rancher William Studdart and film star Gary Cooper failed to return the Wawona to the sea. The pair had a plan to export American beef cattle to the Soviet Union, but the deal was never finished, thanks to unsatisfactory negotiations with the Russians. Fortunately, California's new Maritime Museum had sparked public interest in prematurely vanishing historic ships and the public raised the money to save the Wawona from an untimely demise. In 1964, Seattle's Northwest Seaport redeemed the vessel to create a maritime museum for Puget Sound. The last of the Northwest's commercial sailing fleet, the Wawona is associated with an industry that shaped the region's growth and history. The Wawona is located on Lake Union, just north of downtown Seattle. The ship is part of Northwest Seaport's volunteer program, and is undergoing restoration. At the turn of the century, there were more than 300 commercial schooners like the Wawona in the Pacific sailing fleet. Today, only two of those ships still exist: the Wawona, and its sister ship the C.A. Thayer, at the National Maritime Museum of San Francisco.