San Francisco Bay is entered through a comparatively narrow passage, and then opens up into a grand expanse of water, extending north and south as far as the eye can see. Eventually our travels would take us northward across this tremendous bay to the storied El Dorado, with its mountains of gold and the snowcapped Sierra’s beyond. For now our destination is Yerba Buena.
Approximately thirty miles southeast from the mouth of the bay, on the leeward side of a long spit of land, is a high point on which the presidio is built. Southeast of the presidio is one of several harbors in the bay. This particular harbor is anchorage for trading vessels, and near it is the mission of San Francisco and the city of Yerba Buena.
As we rounded this point and the harbor came into view, even our well-traveled captain gasped and stood in awe! There at harbor were literally hundreds of ships! I’d seen some busy harbors in the last five months, and the harbor in Philadelphia was no slouch itself, but never in my wildest dreams had I ever even imagined a spectacle like this. I’d hazard a guess and say there were probably five hundred ships in this bay! There were tall ships, and steam ships, old East Indiamen, brigs and barges, countless schooners, and clippers of every imaginable cut of sail. There were Yankee clippers that looked as though they might have been built last week, and ol’ frigates I’ll bet Columbus himself has sailed.