- Historic Sites
The three-masted, bald-headed (having no topmasts) Wawona is the largest sailing schooner built in North America. Constructed by Hans Bendixen at Fairhaven, California, she began her career in 1897 as a lumber ship, making quick runs up and down the Pacific Coast. In 1914, after 17 years of carrying lumber, she became part of the codfishing fleet that operated in the Bering Sea. By 1940 her crews had caught 6,830,400 codfish, a world's record for a catch by a single vessel. Conscripted during World War II for government use as a barge, she was re-rigged in 1946 and had two last seasons of codfishing. The Wawona then sat in port for nine years. In 1952, Capt. Ralph E. Petersen sought to turn Wawona into a South Seas cruise ship, but this plan ended due to a lack of funds. Even her 1953 purchase by cattle rancher William Studdart and film star Gary Cooper failed to return her to the sea. The pair had planned to export beef cattle to the Soviet Union, but the deal fell apart during negotiations with the Russians. Fortunately, California's new maritime museum sparked public interest in rapidly disappearing historic ships and the public raised the money to save the Wawona from demolition. In 1964, Seattle's Northwest Seaport purchased her in order to create a maritime museum for Puget Sound.