Inside Story

Early Morning First Ride to New Ferry Terminal

Published: November, 2001

This page takes great interest in the new San Francisco Ferry Terminal project, a bedeviled project to be sure, but one that holds out such great promise for ferry commuters and the revitalized waterfront. When all aspects of the ambitious and visionary project are finally complete, it will be a state-of-the-art water gateway to San Francisco and keystone for the envisioned comprehensive regional ferry network. Already it marks a significant aesthetic and practical improvement over the desultory makeshift facilities inflicted on harried commuters until now.

So when word reached us that the first dock of the Terminal really would open in early October we wanted to be on the first boat to dock to commemorate the moment. The date kept changing as last minute gremlins were worked out, but finally we got a message from Cameron Orcutt, the Blue and Gold dispatcher that the honors were going to the first boat of the day out of Alameda/Oakland on Wednesday, October 3.

At that empty time of the morning we thought of The Hounds of the Baskervilles. The daily newspapers aren’t even in the boxes yet. A person sits reading a novel, the sole rider of the first connector bus that has already come and gone. The shipyard adjacent to the parking lot is busy at work, but the parking lot is nearly empty. The scene is lit by the "streetlights" of the atop the huge working cranes of the Port of Oakland directly across the Estuary.

At about 10 minutes after the hour, a flurry of cars appears. Soon, a long line of headlights is on the main road leading to Gateway Alameda, a convoy of last-minute commuters bustling to catch the 6:20 to the Ferry Building.

The redoubtable Encinal, soon to be relieved by the brand new Peralta due to come on line later this very month, appears on time to the minute, just in from the first East Bay stop of the morning, Oakland’s Jack London Square. We board and I make my way to the wheelhouse to introduce myself to the Captain.

It’s James Matlow of Blue and Gold, ably aided by a crew consisting of Jerry Degidio, Nick Melas and Ellen Murphy. As the lines are tossed off, a call goes up to Captain Matlow that 33 souls are aboard for the maiden cruise to the new San Francisco Ferry Terminal.

On my way to the wheelhouse, we spot Nieret "Nita" Mizushima, Chief Port Engineer for the Port of San Francisco. She’s the all-suffering manager responsible for overseeing the Ferry Terminal project, which has been snakebit by sundry problems and delays from the start.

Nita joins us now in the wheelhouse as Captain Matlow, having gently maneuvered the Encinal past dredging equipment, emerges from the Estuary and throttles up. Going full out through the dark, the front of the boat tipping up and a powerful wake churning behind, the Encinal has risen on her haunches, bearing down on the Bay Bridge and San Francisco beyond.

The fog lifts, revealing a full moon backlighting San Francisco with a moonbeam red carpet lying across the Bay in a direct line between us and the City. The Encinal drives straight up the middle of the moonbeam to the new Ferry Terminal.

We ask Captain Matlow if he’s nervous. Not really, he answers, every landing makes him nervous. On ferryboats dockings are "landings" and Captains are "drivers". One would say "I was driving the Encinal and had a rough landing." It’s an ebb tide, so we’ll land to the starboard, the Captain calls out to his crew. We leave the wheelhouse to get out of Captain Matlow’s way.

Below decks, the crew announces to the passengers queuing up to get off that they will be the first to dock at the new San Francisco Ferry Terminal. There’s a certain frisson of excitement, at least as much as can be expected before 7 in the morning from a crowd of commuters. Honors for first off the boat go to Ed Bounds and Lisa Ising.

Nita Mizushima is beaming like a proud parent as passengers depart and troop off to work. The team of workers that labored with her throughout, led by Walt Schwartz of Miller/Thompson, are on hand to celebrate the moment. Carolyn Horgan, Director of Operations, rushes in to make sure all is well.

Within minutes, the passengers have trooped off to work and just Nita and her crew remain, buzzing over minor design quirks yet to be worked out. The pre-dawn moment of celebration was quick but significant. Admittedly, it is just the first phase and inexcusably late. But with the opening of San Francisco’s grand new Ferry Terminal, San Francisco Bay is back in the business of world-class water transit. Many thanks to the Port of San Francisco and Miller/Thompson for their fine achievement.

Captain James Matlow of the Blue and Gold Fleet at the helm of the Encinal, with Nita Mizushima

Headed home: dawn has broken as the Encinal returns from being the first boat to dock at the San Francisco Ferry Terminal