Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Port Costa Mystery Ship

Legend is full of unsolved mysteries of ships that vanish without a trace. Port Costa offers a variation on the theme: the ship that appeared, apparently out of nowhere. It's about 150 to 200 feet long, looks like a retired ferry and is tied up about two dozen feet from shore alongside a boat-hull-shaped object at the waterfront of the closed Port Costa brickyard. "It just showed up," said Coast Guard Petty Officer Andrea Bidowski; she could not say when. Painted a ghostly white, the boat has no immediately visible markings except what appears to be a spray-painted letter or number in a circle. "The owner of that pier has called here and asked it to be removed, because it's not his," Bidowski said. But the matter is out of Coast Guard jurisdiction. "It's a private pier," she said. She could not say whether the pier belongs to the brickyard, which owner TXI Pacific Custom Materials has closed and mostly dismantled. Two men working there Monday said they did not know when the boat appeared or anything else about it."Something like that doesn't just pop out of thin air," said Jimmy Lee, spokesman for the Contra Costa County Sheriff's Office. "Somebody has to have put it there." The Sheriff's Office is investigating. "We're still trying to establish who owns the boat," Lee said. He asked anyone with information to call the Sheriff's Marine Patrol at 925-427-8507. Crockett resident Gene Pedrotti, who owns Pedrotti Ace Hardware in Benicia and alerted the Times to the boat, said he first saw it Thursday when he was walking his dog at the foot of Benicia's First Street. He offered the theory, bolstered by comments he said were made by someone in the know, that the boat was being towed by a tug when the rigging broke, requiring the boat to be moored temporarily. Judy Bulfer, the officer-in-charge at the Port Costa Post Office, said residents mentioned the boat perhaps as far back as two weeks ago. One, she said, believed the boat is supposed to become a floating restaurant. Water-based gastronomy has a turbulent history along this shore. In 1983, an arson fire destroyed the old ferry Garden City, with its famed restaurant, ballroom and bar, off the shore at Eckley just west of Port Costa. Several contributors to a railroad buffs' Web chatroom claimed to know something about the mystery boat. One, who saw it from Interstate 780 in Benicia, said it resembles an old Southern Pacific Railroad ferry. Another tentatively identified it as the ferry Fresno -- formerly the Willapa -- and the object next to it as the hull of the ferry San Leandro. Both were long docked at Mare Island, the writer said. "My fear is that all this metal is going to the scrapyard (sigh)," the writer said. Another said the ferry and the hull were destined for Stockton but offered no further details.

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