Beyond the hunks of shredded scrap metal and hulking ships is a booming industry vital to Redwood City’s economy.
And on Saturday, Oct. 1, Redwood City—the only deepwater port in the South Bay—will open its arms and become homeport to all Bay residents when it hosts the , a colorful maritime festival that features music, food and plenty of waterborne events.
Proceeds will benefit the Redwood City Education Foundation.
One of the highlights will be an eight-person shell crew race between the Redwood City City Council and the City Planning Commission. The race is slated for the channel, where rowers are a familiar sight.
The marina event’s schedule has something for all age groups, ranging from a bounce house and giant slide sponsored by to a beer garden sponsored by the Peninsula Sunrise Rotary Club. There will be plenty of opportunities to tour boats, including a high-speed ferry. Want to go for a sail? The will offer free sailboat rides.
Port Commissioner Lorianna Kastrop said she started the PortFest last year “by coordinating a group of community members who were interested in raising awareness of the Port as a unique resource we have here in Redwood City.”
“We hope to get between 2,000-3,000 people this year,” Kastrop said. About 2,000 people attended last year.
The importance of the working waterfront will be underlined by bus tours to that area. Port officials say 36 ships and 11 barges called at Redwood City in fiscal 2011. As for exports, recorded a 20 percent increase of shredded scrap metal compared to last year, an all-time annual high for Sims.
While most of the events will be held at the marina, with its sailboats and restaurants, the bus tours will give the public a chance to see the port flex its muscles. Utilizing 70 acres, the port, which includes five deepwater wharves, specializes in leasing land to heavy maritime industries involved in importing or exporting granular bulk products.
The port literature boasts that Redwood City’s port is the Bay Area’s “largest recycling center,” processing more than 300,000 scrap autos and untold household appliances per year. In addition, 400,000 tons of steel are exported to the Far East each year. The port and area industrial firms employ more than 600 workers and generate more than $6 million in state and local taxes, according to the Seaport Industrial Association.
Long History includes a Concrete Ship
The port’s history can be traced back to the 1850s when it was used to get logs from the mountains to San Francisco, but it wasn’t until 1935 that a bond issue was passed that led to the dredging of channels. Larger piers were then built along the sections that parallel what is now Seaport Boulevard.
The first cargo ship steamed in to the new Port of Redwood City in 1937, but the dateline of Redwood City was already well known to the world, thanks to a ship named Faith.
Faith was an appropriate name for this ship. One had to have a great deal of faith in a ship made of concrete.
Newspaper reporters estimated that 5,000 people watched on March 14, 1918, as the “world’s first cement-hulled ocean-going vessel” was launched in Redwood City. The ship was made of concrete in order to conserve steel needed to fight World War I.
The Faith made several voyages, including at least one transatlantic crossing. A reporter who was aboard one of Faith’s trips wrote that the ship “encountered an 80-mile gale and 35-foot waves” but still managed up to 5 knots, which is “considered an excellent performance under the circumstances.”
Faith carried cargo for only three years before it was taken to Cuba and sunk as a breakwater.
According to an article in Sea Classics magazine, Faith’s career was short because “she was unable to compete economically with steel merchant ships. The hull of a concrete ship weighs more than that of a steel ship. A concrete ship can carry very little weight relative to its own weight.”
There is also the matter of shattering.
The concrete ship Cape Fear floundered in three minutes after colliding with another ship in 1920 and 19 of her crew died.
“She shattered like a teacup,” said one survivor.
Editor’s Note: If you would like to see what’s left of a concrete ship, visit Aptos, home to the hulk of the oil tanker Palo Alto, which was launched in 1919 in Oakland. She served as a fishing pier in Aptos after a brief career as a nightclub.
More stories about Redwood City’s maritime past are available on Patch. Of particular interest are the that was used for target practice in WWII.