Sails and subs: A tour of the San Diego Maritime Museum

Get up close and personal with a 154-year-old windjammer sailing ship, a Soviet submarine, a Victorian-era ferryboat and more at the San Diego Maritime Museum.

Geoffrey Morrison
Geoffrey Morrison is a writer/photographer about tech and travel for CNET, The New York Times, and other web and print publications. He's also the Editor-at-Large for The Wirecutter. He has written for Sound&Vision magazine, Home Theater magazine, and was the Editor-in-Chief of Home Entertainment magazine. He is NIST and ISF trained, and has a degree in Television/Radio from Ithaca College. His bestselling novel, Undersea, and its sequel, Undersea Atrophia, are available in paperback and digitally on Amazon. He spends most of the year as a digital nomad, living and working while traveling around the world. You can follow his travels at BaldNomad.com and on his YouTube channel.
Geoffrey Morrison
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Holy ship, that's a lot of boats!

This innocuous sign marks quite the collection of ships and boats. Some restored, some replicas, all interesting. Let's check 'em out.

For the full story behind this tour, check out This San Diego museum has a ship-ton of breathtaking boats.

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Star of India

Launched in 1863 as the Euterpe and renamed the Star of India in 1906, this windjammer was in service for 60 years.

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Still sailing

The Star of India is one of the oldest ships in the world to still sail regularly.

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Steer around the world

In her service, the Euterpe sailed around the world 21 times.

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As one of the last generations of sailing ships, windjammers were much larger than their older counterparts. As such, there was much more space for staterooms (small though they are) and lots of cargo.

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Captain's quarters

As you'd expect, the captain's quarters are the largest.

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Passenger cabin

Rich passengers, which she carried in her life as the Euterpe, got much smaller living spaces, but still pretty reasonable compared to earlier ships. Less well-heeled folks got berths down below (which you'll see later).

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Square footage

I've toured a number of sailing ships, but even so, the size of the open spaces on the Star of India are impressive (even though they most certainly had more "stuff" in them when sailing).

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The large galley is up on the main deck.

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Cargo hold

Here you get a sense of how large she is, at least for a sailing ship. Cargo was raised and lowered through here.

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Economy sleeping

Immigrants to New Zealand that couldn't afford the cabins above got berths down here, though they're still fairly comfortable looking compared to some ships I've seen.

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The steel hull was stronger and thinner than wood, allowing for more space for cargo, passengers, or whatever owners wanted. Also, check out the Cutty Sark, built a few years later. A different design of ship, but a similar hull construction.

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As the Euterpe, she was a "full-rigged" ship, but when she was bought and renamed Star of India, her aftmost mast was converted so she became a barque. Apparently that reduces the crew requirements, along with some other advantages.

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Ship of the line

The HMS Surpriselooks like an historic sailing ship of the 18th-century British Empire... but is a replica built in Canada in 1970. She was used for the filming of "Master and Commander."

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Though recently built (compared to her design), you wouldn't know it on the inside, except for the modern head.

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Set behind scratched plastic, the cabin looks beautifully furnished.

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Not as classy

As in any ship, the lesser crew gets lesser accomodations.

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Set sail

The Maritime Museum keeps her in sailing condition.

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The Soviets

One of the best aspects of the Maritime Museum is the variety of ships and boats on display. This is the diesel-electric Soviet submarine B-39.

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The B-39 was an attack sub, active during the Cold War. There are 6 torpedo tubes in the bow and 4 more in the stern.

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Officer's wardroom

The Foxtrot class of subs was big, for its day. Not quite the mammoth size of the later nuclear vessels like the Redoutable though.

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Control room

Hatches like these are every few compartments, helping to seal if necessary.

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Rig for red

The chart shows the sub's trip to San Diego for its new life as a museum ship.

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Crew mess

There were four meals a day, and like its American counterparts, the food was supposedly quite good.

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This was a nice touch by the museum, a display of some Soviet/Russian food and drink.

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Dials and gauges

The various controls and gauges for the engines.

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Engine room

The B-39 had three diesel engines with 2,000 horsepower each. Top speed was 16 knots on the surface, and 15 when submerged.

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Crew bunks

In total there were 78 men aboard the B-39 on each voyage.

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Big wheels

What struck me most going through the B-39 was how simplified (or at least, seemingly less complex) a lot of the controls seemed. Huge controls like these were common.

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A different kind of sail. Like nearly all submarines you can tour, the sail is off limits.

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San Salvador

This is a replica of the San Salvador, the ship sailed by Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo when he "discovered" California for Europeans.

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Built to sail

The San Salvador is an interesting replica. Where the HMS Surprise could pass for an old ship, San Salvador feels new. OK, it is new -- it just opened for tours last year. But it also has a lot of materials that seem anachronistic.

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Presumably the decision to use certain materials over others is that this ship is intended to be used regularly.

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The San Salvador is a galleon, an even older design compared to the other ships in the museum.

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Certainly built and for a warm climate, these bunks can't be closed off for warmth.

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Captain's cabin

This captain found the cabin acceptable.

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The tiny bed is off to the side of the cabin, against the outer hull. Seems cramped.

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This is the steam-powered Medea, built in 1904. Though originally (and now) a pleasure yacht, she was modified with guns and gear and used in both world wars.

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Dining saloon

Walls of oak paneling make for a lovely place to dine (it seems).

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Beautifully ornate

No access below decks, but down there are two cabins and a head.

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The cramped galley could have easily passed for something in a small, well-decorated house.

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Smoking saloon

A place to chill. Below are two more cabins and a head with a bathtub.

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USS Dolphin

The USS Dolphin was in service for nearly 40 years.

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The Dolphin is a small sub, and the interior is correspondingly cramped. Interestingly, the sub is one single compartment, lacking the many watertight bulkheads of traditional submarines.

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A research sub, the Dolphin has no internal weapons (though she launched with one torpedo tube, but was soon refitted without it). Instead there's lots of space for test equipment.

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Control room

Yes, you can look through the periscope. It's fixed onto the nearby San Diego County Administration Center.

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She holds the record for the deepest dive of a traditional submarine (more than 3,000 feet, or 914 meters).

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Power and air

The various dials and controls for the power coming off the batteries, status the ballast tanks, and so on.

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Officers' quarters

Room for two, but they have their own sink. Cameo by yours truly.

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Galley and mess

One of the more open galley and mess areas I've seen on a sub, especially one of this size.

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The 1898 ferryboat Berkeley is almost mundane next to the sailing ships and submarines. Inside there's a treat, though...

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I love this era of design, and the Berkeley doesn't disappoint. Beautiful wood and stained glass transports you to another era.

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The age of steam

The Berkeley was in service for 50 years, ferrying thousands of passengers between Oakland and San Francisco. I can only imagine that while her design is historically beautiful today, in the mid-1950s it must have looked exceptionally dated.

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Big pistons

After the lovely wood upstairs, the steampunk engine room seems out of another world.

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It takes a lot of heat to make enough steam for the engines. These are just two of the gigantic boilers in the ferry.

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Hot stuff

The side of the boiler has been cut away so you can see the brick-lined interior.

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The sun sets

The San Diego Maritime Museum's best aspect is its variety. Sailing ships, submarines and a historic ferry. I recommend spending a day by combining this museum and the fantastic USS Midway museum, which is just a few minutes walk away.

For the full story behind this tour, check out This San Diego museum has a ship-ton of breathtaking boats.

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