Mendocino shipwrecks, lighthouses and the ultimate fish and chips

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It might not have felt like a romantic weekend, with the crashing waves, numerous shipwrecks and talk of doghole ports. To say that historical timber delivery systems look like sheer madness probably doesn’t help my cause either. Would it help to tell you about the pretty lighthouses and fish and chips by the water?

We fell in love with history in Mendocino on a recent weekend, drawn by the lure of those sunny waves, fresh seafood, and maritime history. The village has long been a charming seaside destination, which 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 story began with a spectacular shipwreck. The Frolic, a Baltimore-built brig laden with Chinese porcelain, silks and, some say, opium, was bound from China to San Francisco in 1850, when it sank off Point Cabrillo. A search party was dispatched to recover whatever was salvageable. What they found back then was an incomparable treasure: ancient redwood forests.

In 1852, Mendocino was a lumber camp. Within a year, the Redwood Lumber Manufacturing Company had erected a sawmill there, and before long ships were plying the waters off the coasts of Mendocino and Sonoma carrying lumber from dozens of coastal camps and workings. forests to San Francisco, Asia, Australia and the East. US And the way the wood got from factory to ship was truly breathtaking.

We were fascinated by the tales and lingo – a doghole port? And a foray into maritime history fits well with our hopes of harvesting stellar seafood, preferably from a waterside hut. So we meandered along Highway 1 on a recent sunny afternoon, stopping first at the Point Arena Lighthouse, which looks like a chimney, probably because a chimney company rebuilt it after the 1906 earthquake.

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

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

Today you can not only visit these lighthouses and walk through the gardens and museums, you can even book a night in one of the historic lighthouse keepers’ houses. No fresnel lens polishing task is required. However, there is no shortage of places to stay. 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 paused in our lighthouse explorations to forage for food at Fort Bragg, where the Noyo River empties into the sea. Its sheltered harbour, one of the few on this part of the coast, home to commercial fishing boats and the Noyo Fish Company. This casual waterfront eatery offers some of the freshest, crispiest fish and chips ($16) we’ve ever had, as well as chowder ($7/cup) and local craft beer.

Crispy fish and chips, chowder and local beer are served on the waterfront at Fort Bragg's Noyo Fish Company.  (Jackie Burrell/Bay Area News Group)
Crispy fish and chips, chowder and local beer are served on the waterfront at Fort Bragg’s Noyo Fish Company. (Jackie Burrell/Bay Area News Group)

Man can’t live by lighthouses alone, so we spent the next day strolling the streets of Mendocino, hitting the shops, from the charming gallery bookshop and Bookwinkle’s children’s books to jams and Mendocino preserves. Olallie Berry Jam is the best seller there for good reason, and the homemade mustard packs a big punch.

A few years ago, the venerable Café Beaujolais transformed its bakery – The Brickery – into a pizzeria serving Neapolitan-style wood-fired blistered pizzas with toppings inspired by the season. So we ordered at the window, then sat in the lush garden to enjoy wine, craft beer and a pizza ($16) topped with homemade fennel sausage, red onions and pickled Fresno peppers. (The spinach pesto, snow peas, and goat cheese act were also terribly tempting.)

Mendocino's venerable Café Beaujolais has added two new restaurants to its property: The Waiting Room, a café-bar and wine lounge, and The Brickyard, which serves wood-fired pizzas in the garden.  (Jackie Burrell/Bay Area News Group)
Mendocino’s venerable Café Beaujolais has added two new restaurants to its property: The Waiting Room, a café-bar and wine lounge, and The Brickyard, which serves wood-fired pizzas in the garden. (Jackie Burrell/Bay Area News Group)

We had already visited Mendocino’s Out of This World, purveyor of telescopes and wonderful science toys, and convinced ourselves that we didn’t really need a pair of binoculars. Except we really, really did. So this time we rushed inside, pulled out a credit card, and quickly took in the skyline, the headlands, and everything in between, including – is it possible? Was this strange object part of the metal trunking used in the doghole ports?

You knew we would come back to it, right? In the 1850s, there were few roads and no railroads. Point Arena didn’t have a dock until 1866. The Skunk Train didn’t arrive until 1885. So someone came up with the idea of ​​anchoring schooners in the unpredictable swell of tiny rocky coves – creeks” so small and exposed that sailors joked they were barely big enough for a dog to turn around,” noted maritime archaeologist Deborah Marx in a NOAA documentation, hence the name port doghole. And they set up chutes – first wooden, then wire – to essentially pull logs from the towering cliffs to a waiting ship below.

We kept thinking the rig couldn’t be as horrible as that description implied. Through our new binoculars (we call them a Father’s Day prezzie), we could see remnants of those long-dead works on the headlands, where timber was lowered to the schooners below.

The Mendocino Headlands State Park Visitor Center, nestled inside the historic Ford House, offers a glimpse into life in the 19th century, including the portholes used to load ships.  (Jackie Burrell/Bay Area News Group)
The Mendocino Headlands State Park Visitor Center, nestled inside the historic Ford House, offers a glimpse into life in the 19th century, including the portholes used to load ships. (Jackie Burrell/Bay Area News Group)

So we popped into the Mendocino Headlands State Park Visitor Center and Museum, which houses all sorts of interesting artefacts, including tools used by 19th-century loggers, ship memorabilia, and a huge diorama. of Mendocino, circa 1890, when water towers dotted the village even more than they do now and logging operations filled what is now the lawns and picnic area of ​​the state park.

A scale model shows exactly what this timber delivery system looked like – so much more terrifying than anything we’ve conjured up – and historic photos have shown they also brought passengers to the ship’s deck this way . Incredibly, they weren’t screaming.

Hours later, sitting in the glittering fairy gardens of Luna Trattoria over our seafood, we were still talking about it. Obviously, those Mendocino-ites of the Gold Rush era were a lot braver than us.


If you are going to

Point Arena Lighthouse: This historic lighthouse has reopened for in-person tours ($5 per person), which take place every 30 minutes daily at 45500 Lighthouse Road in Point Arena, and free virtual tours at www.pointarenalighthouse.com.

Point Cabrillo traffic light: The lighthouse is open 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily at 13800 Point Cabrillo Drive in Mendocino; https://pointcabrillo.org.

Noyo Fish Company: Open 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday at 32440 N. Harbor Drive in Fort Bragg; www.facebook.com/noyofishcompany.

Gallery Bookstore and Bookwinkle’s: Open daily from 10:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. at Main and Kasten streets in Mendocino; www.gallerybookshop.com.

Jams and preserves Mendocino: Open 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday through Monday and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday at 440 Main St. in Mendocino; https://mendocinojams.com

Out of this world: Open 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily at 45100 Main St. in Mendocino; https://outofthisworldshop.com.

The brickyard: Open 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesday through Thursday and until 5 p.m. Thursday through Sunday at 961 Ukiah St. in Mendocino; www.cafebeaujolais.com/la-briquette.

www.parks.ca.gov.

Luna Trattoria: Seating for dinner (reservations strongly recommended) at 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday at 955 Ukiah St. in Mendocino; www.lunatratoria.com.

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