Mendocino shipwrecks, lighthouses and the ultimate fish and chips

MENDOCINO, CA - JULY 08: Downtown is seen from this drone view in Mendocino, Calif., on Thursday, July 8, 2021. (Jane Tyska/Bay Area News Group)

It might not have sounded like a romantic weekend, what with the crashing waves, plentiful shipwrecks and talk of doghole ports. Saying that historic lumber delivery systems sound like sheer insanity is probably not helping my cause, either. Would it help to tell you about the pretty lighthouses and waterside fish and chips?

A recent weekend found us history lovers ambling up to Mendocino, drawn by the allure of those sun-dappled waves, fresh seafood and maritime history. The village has long been a charming seaside destination, one that combines spectacular ocean views with fun restaurants and tempting little shops.

The historic village of Mendocino dates back to 1852. (Jane Tyska/Bay Area News Group) 

But Mendocino’s post-Gold Rush history began with a spectacular shipwreck. The Frolic, a Baltimore-built brig laden with Chinese porcelain, silks and, some believe, opium, was bound from China to San Francisco in 1850, when it foundered off Point Cabrillo. A search party was sent to retrieve anything salvageable. What they found back then was a treasure beyond compare: forests of old-growth redwoods.

By 1852, Mendocino was a logging encampment. Within a year, the Redwood Lumber Manufacturing Company had erected a sawmill there and soon after, ships were plying the waters off the Mendocino and Sonoma coasts to haul lumber from dozens of coastal camps and logging operations to San Francisco, Asia, Australia and the Eastern U.S. And the way the timber got from mill to ship was truly jaw dropping.

We were fascinated by the tales and the lingo — a doghole port? And a maritime history foray fit in nicely with our hopes of scoring some stellar seafood, preferably at a waterfront shack. So we meandered along Highway 1 one recent sunny afternoon, stopping first at the Point Arena lighthouse, which looks like a smokestack, probably because a smokestack company rebuilt it after the 1906 earthquake.

The lighthouses that dot the Northern California coastline are here precisely because of the logging operations. Of the nearly 200 shipwrecks along the Mendocino and Sonoma coast during this period, “lumber schooners” accounted for the majority, according to James Delgado, director of the maritime heritage program in the office of National Marine Sanctuaries at NOAA.

There were so many shipwrecks at Point Arena alone, the federal government commissioned a lighthouse for that point in 1866. A light station opened in 1909 at Point Cabrillo, where the debris from the Frolic litters the ocean floor to this day.

Today, you can not only visit those lighthouses and wander the grounds and museums, you can even book an overnight stay in one of the lighthouse keepers’ historic homes. No Fresnel-lens polishing duty required. There’s no shortage of places to stay, though. Mendocino is known for its historic inns and bed-and-breakfasts, including the Glendeven Inn & Lodge and the Brewery Gulch Inn.

As the sun set, we took a break from our lighthouse explorations to seek out sustenance in Fort Bragg, where the Noyo River flows to the sea. Its sheltered harbor, one of the few along this stretch of coast, is home …read more

Source:: The Mercury News – Entertainment


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