The Blue Eagle arrived in Martinez just a few weeks ago, but already the Monterey Clipper looks right at home, and it should. The waterfront it now calls home played host to hundreds of these fishing boats over the course of Martinez history until commercial fishing was banned by the state in the 1950s.
The vessel, donated to the city by the San Francisco Fisherman's Wharf Historic Fishing Boat Association, was the first boat constructed by Frank Seeno Boat Builders of Pittsburg after the passage of the National Recovery Act (NRA). The symbol for the act was the blue eagle, from which the boat took its name. The then-ubiquitous blue eagle symbol is prominent on the boat, along with the motto "We're Doing Our Part."
The Blue Eagle found its way to Martinez through native son Dan Pellegrini, whose family fished local waters for many years.
According to Pellegrini, the waterfront tribute to the city's fishing heritage was missing a boat since the Pescatore, on display for nearly 30 years, finally rotted and was taken down. That boat, which has the same hull shape as the Blue Eagle, and was the vessel type most used by Martinez fishermen, takes its name from the Italian word for "fisherman."
Pellegrini was on the lookout for a boat to take its place, and a friend in Pittsburg told him about a boat that might be available in San Francisco. Pellegrini contacted Robert Durkin, who agreed to donate the Blue Eagle to Martinez.
Durkin was "looking for someone who loved boats as much as he did," said the city's public works director Dave Scola, whose father also was a fisherman in Martinez. He found a boat-loving place in Martinez.
"The Monterey fishing boat was a classic of its time," Scola said. "I remember coming down here as a kid, helping my dad. I have pictures of those boats with the decks filled with salmon."
The NRA was a program developed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to try and restore the country's shattered economy by, among other things, imposing a minimum wage, eliminating child labor and stabilizing prices.
The boat fished the waters of the Sacramento River and Carquinez Strait before making its way to San Francisco, where it became part of the fishing fleet there for many years. Durkin said the Blue Eagle became part of the Yukon Gang, a group of Italian fishermen who routinely fished waters from Eureka to Monterey without radios or modern navigational equipment.
The boat wound up at the Coronado Yacht Club in San Diego from the late 1960s until 2003, where it found service as a buoy tender and a tugboat for the rich and famous. It was donated to the San Francisco Fisherman's Wharf Historic Fishing Boat Association, of which Durkin is a member, in 2008.
No decision has yet been made about where the boat will be displayed, Scola said.
For now, it seems right at home docked near the marina, a real-life vessel sharing space with the ghosts of many other ships just like it.