<br><h3> Chapter One </h3> <b>EARLY YEARS</b> <p> <p> The <i>Sydney</i> steamed into the straits of the Golden Gate, the milewide gap in the coastal mountain chain leading to San Francisco's docks. On the bridge, the harbor pilot suggested a different course to the captain, and the vessel slowly turned into another heading through the wide expanse between the green-and-brown hills. Numerous small islands of rocks littered the entrance, "lifting their moss-grown heads above water, and beat by the eternal surges of an ocean ten thousand miles wide," according to one voyager's observation. The year was 1863. <p> Dense black smoke poured from the ship's smokestack as the winds sweeping in from the ocean quickly twisted the thick trail into grotesque swirls. A curving wake of blue-white froth trailed behind the vessel toward the horizon and seemingly back to the other side of the world where the seamen had once been. On board, young Tom Whitelaw smelled the sharpness of the sea—even with his years spent on the ocean—as the rocking, staggering steamer pushed into another port. <p> San Francisco's harbor was one of the finest in the world. Landlocked by surrounding hills and points, the bay was large enough to give shelter to all the fleets of the globe some said. As the ship moved through the expansive strait that connected the enclosed waters with the Pacific Ocean, on the left, or port side, six promontories of land projected from the higher ground. On the right, or starboard side, an arena of hills appeared with the browning amber colors of early summer. <p> The sixteen-year-old seaman felt the tremors from the freshwater currents flowing out of the bay that met the ocean in a massive vortex of energy. Hauling in weighted measuring lines, seamen yelled out that the water depths were now decreasing from the initial 300-foot soundings outside the entrance. The water would soon become much shallower, averaging twenty feet inside the bay's deep interiors. <p> The <i>Sydney</i> passed scores of huge sea lions, weighing one ton and up, as the closest seals rose up mightily on their flippers to bark at the passing vessel. They acted like a pack of dogs protesting the stranger ambling by their neighborhood. Staring intently at the scene unfolding in front, Tom became amazed at the long, stretching wharves that reached hundreds of feet into the cove, filled with different-shaped ships. <p> Clipper ships with masts that reached high into the sky were anchored or docked next to large riverboat paddlers and steamers, some with wisps of smoke rising from their stacks. The <i>Sydney</i> slowly passed the large black hulk of a paddleship steamer at anchor, ten-story sails fore and aft, with three-story paddle wheels. Small lighters with fat smokestacks behind enclosed pilot cabins chugged toward the docks with off-loaded goods. Horns sounded, bells clanged, overhead gulls squawked, and steam whistles blew. The harbor teemed with activity as the windy city of hills and structures appeared. <p> A crewman had told him this country was in the throes of a terrible civil war, but he couldn't see any evidence of that. He was curious about this new land. "Tom! What's the problem! Get movin'!" The rough yell startled him and spurred Whitelaw into action. He quickly began hauling ropes and moving goods around the deck like the larger, beefy men who surrounded him. <p> The captain telegraphed the engine room's crew to cut the ship's power, and the vessel began its glide toward one spot of densely wooden structures and ships. The long arm of a wharf stretched toward them as the steamer approached the docks with the city's streets and hills dotted by wood, brick, and stone buildings behind. When the deep-throated rumble of the engine pounded in reverse, the large ship slowed dramatically. The sounds then ended abruptly. Another long grumble and the ship nudged against the protective fenders of the wharf now two-stories down. <p> Crewmen tossed down light lines with heavy "monkey fist" tops. After tying each end to a thick hawser and bowline, dockworkers pulled the heavy rope to them and made the ship fast to the bollards, the large mushroom-shaped iron posts on the dock. The crews shouted to one another as the gangplank was maneuvered into place and then helped the passengers disembark. <p> A tentacle of wharves stretched away from either side of the ship. Wall-less, wood-roofed shelters were by gates and ticket booths with multicolored flags, all connecting to streets and buildings that teemed with people and horse-drawn trolleys. Three-story, box-like structures with signs announcing hotels, restaurants, and shops angled from the wharves to where avenues swept away. Bales of wool, boxes of tallow, wine casks, copper ingot stacks, and goods of every size and shape were heaped on the dock from ships being off-loaded. <p> Stevedores in frayed corduroys with rough, open-necked shirts sweated while they worked, and passengers walked away or toward them to board an adjacent clipper ship. Bearded men in three-piece suits with wide lapels, high-necked collars and thick bowties strolled with women wearing plump-sleeved, high-collared dresses with bustles and tight bodices in bright colors. The men wore bowlers and stovepipe hats, while the women carried shawls or held an umbrella. The less-well-to-do wore beaten hats and dungarees with their wives dressed less stylishly in plain cotton dresses. <p> Rebuilt after the destructive fires of past years, impressive buildings with Corinthian columns and marble facades rose majestically. Four and five stories high with iron-fenced patios that encircled the windows, these grand residences and ornate commercial structures lined the cobble-stoned streets, filled the level areas, and then swept up the hills. Black wrought-iron streetlights enclosed oil-burning lamps on tall stands, and clopping horses with strolling pedestrians shared the streets. <p> Looking forward to their leave after months at sea, Tom and the seasoned seamen swarmed about the <i>Sydney</i> to move off the luggage, barrels, and crates. A century before huge container ships and cranes plied the oceans, ships carried cargo bundled in rope nets and crates, and the difficult and dangerous task of unloading a heavy ship could take two or more weeks. As no one knew when a ship would arrive in port, owners didn't employ full-time workers, but instead only hired laborers when they needed them for a particular job. The shipowners walked along the docks yelling, "Men along the shore!" These cries led to the name "longshoreman" for someone who loaded or unloaded a ship. <p> Those on the <i>Sydney</i> had a particularly difficult voyage this time when the ship had steamed around the Horn. In the decades before the Panama Canal was constructed, Cape Horn at the southernmost point of Chile and Argentina was the course taken to sail between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. The strong winds and large waves had nearly capsized the vessel, and the size of the huge icebergs that the ship had to dodge still stood out in Tom Whitelaw's mind. <p> Whitelaw was born in Irvine, a coastal town in North Ayrshire, Scotland, on August 21, 1847. Located on the Atlantic Ocean, Irvine was a major seafaring port for western Scotland and handled a large flow of goods destined for the industrialized city of Glasgow. He grew up there with his brothers, and with the closeness of the ocean, they fished, sailed, and knew the seas. <p> He was from a poor family, and youths didn't have the opportunities of education as they have now: Children were thrown early on upon their own resources to survive. Having a natural love for the power and beauty of the ocean, Whitelaw shipped out to sea at an early age. As a twelve-year-old lad, Tom began singing sea chanties as a "midshipmite," or apprentice seaman, when he signed onto the <i>Sydney</i> in Glasgow on its voyages to the Far East and India. <p> Being a young person on a ship with rough seamen was not an easy time for anyone. Stories abounded about the rites of initiation for the "newbies," who were forced to take on the most dangerous of tasks during the worst storms and endure verbal and physical abuse. Whatever happened stayed with Whitelaw, but he sailed on the Sydney for four years, growing up in the company of tough men and times, while also rising to the position of "able body seaman." <p> Whitelaw finished helping the crew move the baggage, goods, and people to the dock and joined the men on the wharf. When asked if he was going to head off with them into the city, he told them that he'd catch up later. As his term of apprenticeship had expired, Tom Whitelaw had decided to stay. He had only one quarter in his pocket. <p> Tom was a small man who weighed at most 125 pounds. His Scottish brogue would last his lifetime, but he was also energetic, good-natured with a strong positive outlook, and blessed with a fine intuitive mind. He strolled off on his own, as was his nature, to see and learn for himself what San Francisco and this new country was about—despite his tiny amount of funds. <p> <p> * * * <p> Over 100,000 people resided in the San Francisco area in the 1860s, which made it the largest and most populous city on the West Coast; by comparison, New York City was eight times as large. Travel was by stagecoach and ship, since interconnecting railroads between San Francisco, neighboring Oakland, and Los Angeles had not yet been built. Cars, electric streetcars, or even cable cars were not in existence, and sending news depended on where the closest telegraph line was located. The telephone wouldn't become a reality for another fifteen years. <p> The region would still be remote and sparsely populated had it not been for the discovery of gold and the historic California Gold Rush. Once the news about the glittering, valuable metal was out, the population of San Francisco exploded from a sleepy town of 2,000 folks in February 1849 to a booming, lawless place of 50,000 in two years—joining other burgeoning cities and towns in Northern and Central California—and these populations increased greatly each year. Almost every immigrant who came by sea passed through this port, as did most of the goods imported from the outside world. And the rowdy city, crowded with hotels, saloons, brothels, and gambling houses, was the place to which the weary, dirty miners came to spend their hard-earned wealth. When women, families, and the law finally settled into governing San Francisco and its neighboring cities, more respectable opera houses and libraries quietly began replacing the "dens of iniquity." By the late 1850s, San Francisco had left much of its tumultuous times behind and had taken on the look of a major cosmopolitan city. <p> In 1861, the horrific Civil War began to rage between the states. A million Americans died or were wounded by the time it came to a merciful end four years later. Although San Franciscans enlisted and generally supported the Union cause, due to their fortunate isolationism they were spared the destruction that rained down on much of the country. The San Francisco Mint continued to coin multimillions of dollars in gold for its wealthy residents' accounts, and steamers routinely sailed through the Golden Gate with a million dollars of gold dust, bars, ingots, and coins destined for the East Coast. <p> The noted San Francisco historian of the times, Charles B. Turrill, wrote: <p> And during all of the time [of the Civil War], the wheels were revolving here at home. Ships were being built, streets improved, new and better homes were being built, and larger and more sumptuous hotels erected. Fires removed structures and better ones took their places. <p> <p> After seeing San Francisco, however, Tom Whitelaw then left the city. He headed to Samuel Brannan's vineyards at Calistoga, located in the Napa Valley seventy-five miles north of San Francisco and near the city of Santa Rosa. Tom had met the owner on board the <i>Sydney</i>. <p> Sam Brannan was born in 1819 and lived for seventy years. He was a famous Mormon apostate, who had his hand in nearly every aspect of early California State history, and helped develop the wine and brandy industries in the upper Napa Valley. He concentrated his efforts in this valley and named its "urban" center Calistoga, hoping that his investment there would make it the California counterpart of New York's resort spa in Saratoga. Calistoga still exists today as a small town in the Northern California wine country. <p> Brannan had sailed to France and sent home 20,000 cuttings of French grape varietals, which was a sizable importation of European vines. When Brannan's grapevines were en route to San Francisco, he and Tom became acquainted, and the vintner had offered a job to the young seaman. After nine months of working the vineyards, however, Whitelaw regained his yearnings for the sea, left Brannan, and headed back to San Francisco. <p> Tom secured a position on the steamer <i>George S. Wright</i> with Western Union Telegraph Company's expedition to conduct surveys for a telegraph cable route across the Bering Sea into Asiatic Siberia. The Bering Sea covers more than three-quarters of a million square miles and is bordered on the east and northeast by Alaska, on the west by Russia's Siberia, on the south by the Alaskan Peninsula and Aleutian Islands, and on the north by the Arctic Ocean. This voyage was to discover the best route to lay a competitive telegraph cable "the long way" through the United States, across Alaska, underneath the Bering Sea, and then overland through Siberia and Russia to Europe. This region was also one of the world's richest fishing and sealing grounds. <p> The experiences that young Whitelaw had on board the <i>George S. Wright</i> would be very helpful in his business career. He saw the problems and inner workings of another steamer. With an inquiring mind and confident manner, he learned how ships weathered storms and needed repairs, as well as about voyages on the Bering Sea. Later in his life, he looked at the Bering Sea as another business opportunity for sealing and whaling, knowing the trade well from his early travels. <p> The Western Union expedition selected the best cable approaches and landings inside the protected harbors. The party recorded numerous soundings of the bottom, and the relatively moderate depths and soft beds were considered advantageous. Floating ice fields were prevalent and dangerous, however, even during the early summer months. The team leaders continued on, however, disregarding the threat of icebergs ripping apart the ship and any laid cable. "Ice flows into the Arctic Ocean—not from it," one report concluded in justifying their decision. <p> With the survey completed in 1865, Whitelaw returned to San Francisco and apprenticed himself to the shipwright firm of Middlemas & Boole to learn the ship-carpentering trade. One year later, he learned that the completion of the great transatlantic telegraph cable from Newfoundland to Ireland had ended Western Union's trans-Siberian dream. Its crews had by then buried 300 miles of cable under Alaska, 350 miles through Siberia, and 400 miles in the Canadian wastelands, but all had to be abandoned. The venture eventually sold the line's glass insulators to Siberian peasants to use as teacups. <p> Meanwhile, Sam Brannan set up a distillery and later shipped his Calistoga Cognac around the Horn to New York City. In the 1870s Brannan's economic world fell apart, and creditors eventually foreclosed upon his Calistoga estate. He lived out his years in obscurity in Southern California. <p> <p> * * * <p> Tom worked hard to learn his trade at Middlemas & Boole on San Francisco Bay. He had come to love the city and its maritime ties with the sea. With names such as Clarke's Point, Vallejo, Shaw, Central, and Flint, numerous wharves jutted out into the huge cove, ensuring more than enough work for the locals on the ships that came to port. As an apprentice ship's carpenter, Whitelaw worked on the California Drydock Company's construction of the Hunters Point drydocks in southeastern San Francisco, and what is now Oakland rose across the bay from the point. Finally completed in 1868, the yard encompassed 638 acres of waterfront and the site of the first commercial drydock on the West Coast. (Once a vessel is inside the structure, pumps force the seawater from the enclosure, allowing workmen to work on the ship; after the vessel is repaired, water is forced back inside, allowing the vessel to be towed out.) <p> <i>(Continues...)</i> <p> <p> <p> <!-- copyright notice --> <br></pre> <blockquote><hr noshade size='1'><font size='-2'> Excerpted from <b>TAKING THE SEA</b> by <b>DENNIS M. POWERS</b> Copyright © 2009 by Dennis M. Powers. Excerpted by permission of AMACOM. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.<br>Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.