By Donna Beth Weilenman
During the California Gold Rush, wooden sailing vessels arrived in San Francisco to the point that from the docks, bay waters looked like a forest of leafless trees had risen up above the waves.
Many were abandoned, and others were dismantled and recycled.
After gold rush mania subsided, sailing vessels remained important. They brought merchandise from around Cape Horn or east from South Sea islands or from Asia. They needed to be swift, particularly if their cargo was fragile produce.
One name became known, not just in California, for design and construction of speedy sailing ships. That man was Matthew Turner, who eventually built a shipyard on the coastline of Benicia. One of his ships still holds the speed record for traveling from Tahiti to California under sail.
Turner’s story doesn’t begin in California. He first began designing ships for his father on Lake Erie, Ohio. Like many, Turner got gold rush fever, and he joined optimistic prospectors who hoped to strike it rich.But it wasn’t gold that made him prosperous. It was wood.