USS Midway Museum
Festival of Sail
San Diego Harbor
Bob has had a couple of very nautical weeks recently. He visited the USS Midway Museum in mid-August, and then attended the Festival of Sail on Labor Day.
The Midway was just named as the sixth most popular museum destination in the United States by TripAdvisor’s reviewers. Included with admission is an audio tour that is self-activated and keyed to locations on the ship. There are three main themes to the tour: On the Roof — the flight deck, island, and most of the aircraft; Man and Machine — hangar deck, engineering, and air wing; and City at Sea — crew living spaces and the infrastructure to support a crew of thousands. Bob found the tour very interesting and the audio clips well chosen. The clips were both informative and poignant, often including voices of former crew members recalling their service—loading bombs, flying aircraft, or simply doing the laundry. The USS Midway was in commission from 1945 until 1992. The museum opened in 2004. Visiting begins at 10 a.m. Bob served as an engineering officer in the US Navy, so he started his tour of the Midway below decks. As he could not spend as long on board as he might have wished, by the time he got to the flight deck it was too late for him to wait in line for the guided tour the bridge — and the museum warns people that the line may close at 3:30 on busy days. So if you get aboard first thing in the morning, you should head to that spot first. There was really no waiting for the tour sites anywhere else on the ship.
Admission is $20 for adults. There is a gift shop and food is available, though he did not check those out very closely. He saw signage for elevators to help those with mobility difficulties, but we imagine that a ship is not the most friendly environment for visitors with those challenges. Bob also did not explore the flight simulator rides, which cost extra. One other fine thing about the museum is the large number of docents, knowledgeable former Navy men, who were in every space open on the tour.
The Maritime Museum of San Diego is several blocks north of the USS Midway Museum on the waterfront west of downtown. The museum has a permanent collection of eleven vessels, ranging from the largest -— the Star of India, a sailing ship built in 1863 — to the smallest, a Vietnam War era “Swift Boat,” PCF-816. We have been to the Maritime Museum many times over the years; the museum was founded in 1948. We have also been to the Festival of Sail a couple of times before, first with our daughters when they were younger, and then again with our German exchange student Lisa who lived with us during the 2009-2010 school year. The festival has become an annual event and takes place over Labor Day weekend. Added attractions at the festival, aside from food and other vendors along the wharf, are visiting sailing ships, a display and firing of a number of cannon on the museum’s pier, sailing excursions, and staged “cannon battles” between some of the smaller sailing vessels. Tickets for the festival were $7 this year. Participation in the excursions and “cannon battles” cost extra.
Bob liked the engineering spaces on the ferry boat Berkeley very much; a docent was explaining the boiler and engine systems to a couple and operated the machinery to show how it would have worked. A new attraction that Bob also liked very much was the recently launched replica of Juan Cabrillo’s flagship San Salvador. Cabrillo was the leader of the first European expedition to visit San Diego Bay, and building the replica has been a huge project led by the Maritime Museum over the last several years. There was a short line to wait for the introductory lecture, led by a ranger Bob recognized from the Cabrillo National Monument (another favorite place we take out of town visitors). One item of particular interest to Bob was seeing the renovation project that is underway on the Star of India. She is an iron-hulled vessel, but the superstructure is wooden and thus in need of constant attention. The current project is replacing the weather decks. As of Labor Day, a few sections of the project were complete but moving forward one could see the work in progress. The volunteers are removing the old deck to expose the underlying iron framework, preserving that, and then laying down an engineered wooden laminate deck that will be waterproof, the planks of the new deck, and then finishing the work with caulking, sanding, and coating.
The museum is open year-round and admission is normally $16 for adults, so seeing it during the Festival of Sail is a real bargain but also probably more crowded than on a normal day. Again, though there seems to be an attempt at accommodating all visitors, ships and boats are not the most wheelchair friendly. The museum has a gift shop and a small café.