Milpitas Camera Club Field Trip
Field Trip: Butano and the Queen Mary 2 Welcome Cruise
Trip Date: February 3-4, 2007
Report Author: Scott Hinrichs
Report Date: February 5, 2007

Two-Fer Weekend: Butano Redwoods State Park and the Queen Mary 2 welcome cruise

The first Saturday and Sunday in February was an action-packed, two-fer weekend with a smorgasbord of two field trips and the "Stoopid Bowl" to boot.

Nine club members and associates began the day on Saturday, February 3 with a mid- morning trip to Butano State Park in the mountains above the beautiful San Mateo coast.

Our group was confronted with making a choice between Big Basin State Park and Butano, and since we've gone to Big Basin for two or three years in a row we agreed upon Butano. Once we arrived in this scarcely used state park, we knew we had made the right choice. Butano Redwoods State Park is a 3,500-plus-acre reserve in the Santa Cruz Mountains midway between Half Moon Bay and Santa Cruz. Butano offers six distinct biomes: coastal grassland, mixed woodland, oak woodland, coastal redwood/Douglas fir forests, vernal wetlands and chaparral. Our group, of course, was operating on a selection system weighted in favor of redwood trees, fungus, banana slugs and proximity to Duarte's Restaurant in the nearby community of Pescadero. Although the banana slug population was represented by only one immobile specimen, we found abundant mushrooms and other various forms of fungus extruding from nearly every wrinkle in this greenest of green redwood forests.

There was a trail leading up the steep, wooded canyon from the little creek bed where we parked our cars, but none of us, save for Kaz, tried to mount the high ground. Soon Kaz returned and found us all sprawled around the forest floor, prone, like victims of some terrible catastrophe-our group had succumbed to mushroom intoxication. We had all become enchanted with the visual possibilities of the red, yellow, brown and tawny cream colored mushrooms, and had to stoop, crawl and grovel in the wet forest floor detritus to get them in our view finders. None of us hiked more than a city block or two, but let me tell you, from the point of view of one of the grovelers, it was exhausting!

I wanted to crawl a few more miles through the mud and decomposing redwood needles, but the menu at Duarte's rang loudly in our ears-it eventually spoke in a voice much louder than the fungus. We all knew that the best cream of artichoke soup in the state could be found just down the road, and it wasn't long before a very happy group of muddy photographers dined on the soup, sandwiches, fried scallops, crab salad and slices of homemade pie at this widely known restaurant known as "Dew-arts" to all those addicted to its legendary fare. Soon three carloads of contented photogs returned home with their memory cards and bellies full and big smiles on their faces.

The next day, Sunday, February 4, it got even better! Eight lucky club members and associates made their way to San Francisco's Fisherman's Wharf to board the floating maritime museum and World War II cargo ship, the S.S. Jeremiah O'Brien. The O'Brien was to take a three-hour cruise out beyond the Golden Gate Bridge to accompany the world's largest ocean liner, the Queen Mary 2, into San Francisco Bay on its first visit to the Bay Area.

In effect, by taking this trip, we were sinners blaspheming the name of that great American cultural sacred cow, the Super Bowl and while most folks were scorching various chucks of fatty meat, arranging bowls of salty, calorie-ridden processed snacks and setting up viewing galleries for their noisy, obnoxious, drunk buddies in front of television sets across the nation, our group was bounding up the springy metal gangway of the 441-foot rust bucket cum floating maritime museum.

The O'Brien people told me a month earlier that they expected the $50-a-head tickets not to sell out, but that turned out to be a major miscalculation on their part. Two weeks before the cruise, the tickets were gone and fortunately some of us had made our ticketing arrangements well in advance (and we were all so glad that we did!).

We left early for the City, and by doing so, attracted more good fortune to our venture. We found reasonably priced parking within three blocks of Pier 45! (Later that day, a camera club member drove into the City at about noon and found that a multitude had descended on Aquatic Park and on the cliffs from the Presidio to the mouth of the Golden Gate to witness the big ship make its grand entrance. (From our ship I saw the jetty that embraces the lagoon near Ghirardelli Square overrun by more than a thousand spectators!) Who knew this event was to be so popular? I would like to take credit for the foresight, but I must give credit to another club member who attended the December 2006 Jeremiah O'Brien field trip and noticed the Queen Mary 2 Welcome Cruise and its unusually low price-kudos to Chong! Anyway, it sounded like fun, and I like fun, and fun is what our eight participants had! This event turned out to be the spectacle I imagined and more! (Although in my mind's eye, I envisioned three fireboats spraying water instead of the one that led the big dame into the harbor.

The mission of the O'Brien was to steam out to "One-Mile Rock" just west of the Golden Gate Bridge and wait for the big liner to approach. Once she got past, the old liberty ship was to accompany her into the port. The O'Brien representatives wanted to come within 200 meters of the big ship, but the Cunard people said 800 meters-they compromised at about 400 or 500 meters. The liner is capable of about 30 knots of speed, but our old tub probably topped out at about 12 knots without blowing the boilers, so the Cunard people agreed to also cool down the speed on the ship's approach to the bay. Such speeds all seem relatively slow compared to automobile and air travel, but as a first-hand witness, I noted that the period of time from when I saw the form of the ship solidify on the distant, hazy horizon and then loom in front of me, nearly filling my wide-angle field of view, wasn't that long. It almost seemed she was gliding on ice right by us. The O'Brien hit its steam whistle in salute, we all toasted the big ship with our Champagne glasses, and the captain poured the oil to the boilers and tried his best to follow her, but she just kept slipping along- scarcely clearing the big bridge-and ploughing her way to a waiting spot in front of the Bay Bridge. (She had to sit out the low tide in order to slip safely under that span). She was to dock at Pier 27, offload some passengers, pick up others and continue on to Hawaii and Sydney in the middle of a 109-day round the world cruise.

She not only bested us in speed, she literally dwarfed every craft in the bay, save for a huge container ship and an automobile transport ship. At 1,132 feet, she was nearly three times the length of the O'Brien. She could hold almost 4,000 passengers and crew, and she pushed herself through the water with the equivalent power of 157,000 horses and could zip along at 30 knots. She was a sleek beauty designed for long ocean voyages (being built much tougher and faster than the lumbering cruise ships, which hug the coastlines, cruise the gulfs and avoid the mid-ocean storms). Built in France, her lines were sleek, attractive and clean and she cut the smooth waters of the Potato Patch and Golden Gate like a brand new, gleaming razor. She bested us in every way, but we had the best seats in the bay to watch her make her debut appearance and we relished every second of the spectacle! And I must say-and loudly at that-You should have been there! This had to be one of the best field trips I've ever organized and the elation of the participants was palpable. There was one club member who didn't have a ticket and he saw the event from Fort Point under the bridge and it even blew him away!

You'll see the pictures coming to the surface at subsequent club meetings and see the hundreds of sail and power boats chasing her into the bay like so many flies and gnats, their collective wakes making overlapping, lacy vees on the choppy, blue and green waters of San Francisco Bay.

I'm sorry, I must sound like a raving lunatic, but this truly was an extraordinary experience and I wish you could have been a part of it!

© 2007 S.R. Hinrichs