Monday, February 05, 2007
They came by the thousands and clung to the edges of hilltops, beaches, boats and the Golden Gate Bridge to catch a glimpse Sunday of the largest ship ever to enter the San Francisco Bay. Some spectators waited for hours, and when the Queen Mary 2 made her grand entrance into the bay at 3:58 p.m., they were not disappointed. Less than 30 feet separated the Golden Gate Bridge's underside from the ship's tallest point, giving people gathered on the bridge a breathtaking birds-eye view of the 1,131-foot long ship. "It was long and elegant," said Lynne McClure of Menlo Park. "We were looking right down at several pools and tennis courts. All the lawn chairs were lined up in rows. It was shipshape as you would expect." McClure picnicked on the bridge with her friends, drinking wine, munching on cheese and crackers and chocolate and conjuring images of a bygone era. "I was thinking of my grandparents traveling across the Atlantic from Europe," said McClure's friend, Wendy Crowder of Palo Alto. McClure said the moment had a festive feel, like the 50th anniversary of the Golden Gate Bridge in 1987."It's a big event, bigger than the Super Bowl and bigger than Fleet Week," she said. Barbara Abbott, 84, said the ship's arrival was the most spectacular event she had ever witnessed. She waved to the passengers on the Queen Mary 2 as it passed under the bridge. Her only regret was for a view from the center of the span. "I wanted to spit down the chimney," she said. Rex Reader, 68, and three friends from Santa Rosa set out their nylon chairs at 1 p.m. to view the majestic ship from the southern end of the bridge with their cameras and binoculars. Ron Buhlman, 67, called the vessel's arrival a "once-in-a-lifetime experience." Reader said he's looking forward to traveling aboard the Queen Mary 2 someday. "For someone with limited physical stamina, it's a good way to go," he said. "You meet people who are interested in worldly things and you eat good food." Roger Dahl, a former competitive sailor who lives in Montara, watched the event from the Golden Gate Bridge with his wife, Rene, and their 14-year-old son, Nick, Dahl, who has sailed the bay for more than 40 years, estimated there were about 400 sailboats on the water below. He compared the crush of vessels to opening day of the sailing season."The wind has shifted to make it easier for boats to sail downwind to the bridge," he said as about a dozen aircraft hummed overhead in the sunny sky. "It's unusual for this time of year." The ship had been expected to arrive at 3 p.m. but got delayed when it took longer to board locals, including the bar pilot who guided the ship under the span and into the bay. On the expansive beach at Crissy Field, the former bayside air strip, there was standing room only by 3 p.m., and anxious spectators competed to be the first to spot the boat, just as people on board ships vie to spot land. When the ocean liner did finally appear, the smaller boats sounded their horns and the waiting masses cheered. On the bridge, a group of men waved a giant rainbow flag. From the shore, the ship's high, pointed bow seemed to menace the bridge until it finally slipped underneath. "I'm a commercial fisherman, and I've seen a lot of boats, and all I can say is this is huge," said Carl Westrate, 74, who lives in Lafayette. He was at Crissy Field with his wife, reminiscing about her arrival as an immigrant from England aboard the first Queen Mary decades ago. "This is so much bigger than I could have imagined," said Jim Conley, 83, of Mill Valley, who had waited hours to see the ship. A Navy veteran, he recalled traveling on the Queen Elizabeth in 1943 with about 16,000 other troops. Traffic around the bayside of San Francisco was disrupted for the afternoon; it came to a complete halt on the Golden Gate Bridge as the ocean liner passed beneath. Two hours after the ship passed under the bridge, cars were still backed up trying to get out of Fort Baker near the Bay Area Discovery Museum. Hundreds of people had gathered there, climbing the hills, scrambling on the World Ward II bunkers or launching out on kyacks to get a better view. The Queen Mary 2 is scheduled to depart from Pier 27 for Hawaii.