The Restoration of the C. A. THAYER 2003-2007

Thayer is one of only two West Coast lumber schooners left in existence. She was built to haul fir lumber from the Pacific Northwest to the expanding towns and cities of California. Thayer later served the American cod and salmon fisheries of Alaska, helping to feed a growing country.

As Thayer neared her 100th year, she was disintegrating rapidly, and drooping at the bow and stern. In planning to save the Thayer, park staff considered whether to put her ashore inside a building. The park decided that rebuilding her using traditional materials and keeping her afloat, was the only practical and acceptable choice. Congress authorized the project in 2002.

Thayer out of the water and being rolled to a former seaplane hangar.
In 2003 Thayer was taken out of the water and put onto dry land. She creates an eerie pre-dawn sight. After being towed into the Alameda Estuary, she was lifted by a drydock and rolled onto the tarmac of the old Alameda Naval Air Station. The former seaplane hangar made an ideal workshop for the restoration project.

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Below decks photo of ship worker looking at ravages of dry rot to Thayer's timbers.
The ravages of dry rot are evident in the massive frame timbers and planking.

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Five men working on the main deck and bulwarks of the CA Thayer.
The salvaged deck house is re-installed as work continues on the new decking and bulwarks.

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A Mix of Old and New
As the vessel was taken apart, tons of rotten timbers were discarded, but every piece that could be salvaged was reused.

The park was fortunate to have the Bay Ship and Yacht Company just across the San Francisco Bay in Alameda. This firm offered the rare skills and experience needed to do the job. They finished the hull and deck using only original style timber and fastenings.

The massive outer hull of the Thayer with new and old planking.
A mix of old and new: darker salvaged frames and planking contrast with the new wood.

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Rotten frames in the hold of Thayer.

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Rotten frames were removed and replaced with ten-inch timber, sawn to shape.
The ship's hull, with the rotten frames removed and covered with scaffolding.
All frame timbers above the waterline were replaced, and a new hull took shape.

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Ship yard worker exposing rotting deck planks.

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BEFORE: Hull, deck and inner ceiling planks were sacrificed to access underlying structural timbers.
View of the main deck looking toward the bow.

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AFTER: New, four-inch square deckplanks were caulked with oakum and hot pitch.
Close-up view of the ship's new stem post and new hull planking.
A new stem post fit into the original keel, and a mix of original and new planking sheaths the hull.

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The starboard side of the hull showing new 80 foot long planking.
New four inch planking was in lengths of eighty feet, attached with steel spikes and locust wood trunnels or "tree nails."

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After a major restoration of more than three years, the National Historic Landmark C.A. Thayer returns home to San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park in April 2007. The magnitude and extent of this restoration is virtually unprecedented in the history of modern maritime preservation, ensuring that this 156-foot long wooden schooner can survive for another hundred years.

“This project has been a labor of love for all of us who were privileged to be involved,” said San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park Superintendent Kate Richardson. “On a practical level, we have preserved a vital piece of American history and culture. On an emotional level, we have breathed life back into the hopes and dreams of the men and women who lived on, for, and by the sea. Thayer is a legacy of opportunity and independence that I am proud to pass along to future generations.”

The C.A. Thayer is now structurally sound and watertight. Additional restoration work will continue at Hyde Street Pier for a number of years, with the goal of preparing Thayer to sail once again. Ongoing projects will include restoration of her sailing rig, completion of the forward deckhouse, and installation of interior fittings.

More on the restoration and preservation of the C. A. Thayer.

More about C. A. Thayer's history.

Weekly updates on the restoration work done between February 2004 and December 2004.

Link to movies showing work on the Thayer and interviews with employees working on the restoration project.


Last updated: February 28, 2015

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