Friday, September 7, 2012

US San Francisco: Sunset Cruise (View from a Different perspective)

Almost everyone whom I know who have visited San Francisco have taken a cruise out on the San Francisco Bay, cruising pass Alcatraz, once the notorious maximum security prison, making your way under the Golden Gate Bridge.

It is also one of the top ten `must do' activities listed on most travelling portals when one do visit San Francisco. Googling for options, I was presented with several but one particular option leaped out figuratively from the screen as if she was screaming ..."TAKE ME ! TAKE ME!"

A romantic sunset cruise on board the Adventure Cat.
Adventure Cat unlike others is a catamaran, catering for only a maximum of between 15 to 20 people, unlike the ferries which would cater for anything between 100 to 350 people! Inevitably, the price of the ticket is a little more expensive. While a normal adult fare for the ferries is about USD23 per person, a sunset cruise on board the Adventure Cat is USD50 (which incidentally comes with one free drink including either a beer or wine from their bar and light hors d'oeuvres)

I am a sucker for anything remotely romantic and since I have not had a chance riding in a catamaran coupled with the fact that I absolutely detest having to literally `fight' for a decent space to take a good picture, besides the deep inner desire of wanting to sail akin the rich and famous, I gladly signed and paid in a jiffy.

Taking a sunset cruise in San Francisco with the hope of catching a good sunset and clear view of the city's skyline, the Golden Gate Bridge and the Alcatraz is likened to tossing a coin with a 50 percent chance that you would come back totally disappointed, with pictures of mostly the infamous San Franc's thick fog. This uncertainty however, heightens the anticipation and excitement. It's like your first date with the most beautiful girl in college and you, expecting for the best turnout yet fearful that it could turned out totally disastrous.

Arriving early at jetty J of Pier 39, we excitedly waited for the actual boarding. The other advantage of being in a small crowd is that we got acquainted with the other passengers real fast and that, made the excursion even more pleasant and memorable...
As the catamaran leaves Pier 39, we were presented with a different perspective of Pier 39. Sailing off at 6:30pm, with the sun setting and shining directly at her, Pier 39 was basked in a set of magnificent golden hue against a backdrop of a clear blue sky ...
As we got further out, the panoramic view of San Francisco's skyline became more apparent. I was glad that I took my Sigma 10-20mm F2.8 wide angle lens with me for this one ....
For the past few days while I was walking at Pier 39, I have been using my Nikkor 18-105mm kit lens , trying to capture some closer pictures of Alcatraz. We originally wanted to tour Alcatraz, but by the time we confirmed our trip, all the tickets have been sold and none was available for another 2 weeks. Well, that would give me another good excuse to come back to San Francisco. 

As we sailed past Alcatraz, I anchored myself at a good spot on the catamaran with my d90 armed and ready. As we approached, the site of this ghostly site in the twilight, besides being awesome and magnificent, also sent a chill up my spine.
The Alcatraz Island, also known as THE ROCK, is located 1.5 miles (2.4km) offshore from San Francisco. The island was turned in a federal prison between 1933 to 1963 and was used to keep notorious hardcore prisoners, likened to a `Who's who? list, such as Al Capone, a famous American gangster from Brooklyn, New York, Robert Franklin Stroud aka the Birdman of Alcatraz, an extremely intelligent but violent man who wrote his own autobiography and the book "Diseases of Canaries", something of which he has became an authority of sorts due to his exposure in raring these birds in his confinement, George `Machine Gun' Kelly, an American gangster whose favorite weapon was his Thompson submachine gun and Alvin 'Creepy' Karpis, who spent a total of 26 years here, making him the longest serving inmate of the ROCK, whose life was as colorful and eventful and yet tragic as a summer blockbuster.

Going up close and personal especially with the sunlight fading, the stillness of the place looks gloomier than ever. Some how, there is an eerie aura all around her. No wonder the Native Americans kept themselves away from this island in the early days, because they believed it to be cursed.

From here, our captain steered the catamaran west towards the Golden Gate bridge. Actually, I was a little disheartened because although there were no thick fog to totally obscure the bridge, it was  not exactly, the kind of sunset I was hoping for.
Just like a teenager on his first date, my heart sank, expecting to walk away from this probably once in a lifetime experience with just some `so so' pictures. I was expecting more, much more. I was expecting a spectacular golden sunset with different hues of amber, yellow and blue accompanied with some interesting clouds formation, similar to the shots I have taken back home.

Yet, I was hopeful and keeping myself anchored at the helm of catamaran, camera in hand, I waited as we sailed nearer to the bridge. The waters of San Francisco, living to her reputation was rather rough at times, bouncing our catamaran like a little toy boat. Coupled with shark infested and cold icy water,  this bay has helped Alcatraz to become known as the inescapable prison. In the 29 years of her existence as a maximum security prison, there were only 36 prisoners with 14 escape attempts made. Of the 36 prisoners, 23 were caught, 6 shot and killed, 2 drowned and 5 listed as 'missing and presumed drown'.

As we approached the bridge, the thick clouds relented and the golden sun rays finally forced through, casting an amber hue on the scattered clouds formation against the blue sky. There was hope yet ....
No words can really described the exhilaration bursting from within as we sailed quietly beneath her. Looking up at her, she looks absolutely stunning with her dressed in her renowned International Orange, made even more spectacular in the evening sun .....
My finger was so busy clicking away at every angle possible, my eyes only occasionally lifted up from my camera's view finder to savor the moment, before they were back behind the view finder, hopefully to capture yet another memorable shot.
Satisfied that I have taken the shots that I need to take, as we leave the Golden Gate Bridge behind, heading back to Pier 39, I sat back, finally relieved somewhat that I have experienced what I was expecting, if not more. With a complimentary cold Budweiser in hand, I leaned back and breathe in the chilling San Francisco Bay air. There was no disgusting engine sound, In her place was the sweet sound of the flaps of the sail beating in the wind. No hundreds of tourist jostling around, talking and shouting at the top of lungs. Everyone on board, just like me, I guessed, were quietly soaking in the atmosphere.

As we approached the pier, I looked back at her, bidding her a reluctant farewell, just like a love struck teenager unwilling to part with his new found love. I took one last picture to remember her by ...a true American icon to the world, as the sun sets behind her.......
Would I do it all over again, if I am ever in San Francisco again? Yes! Definitely and I am hoping that it will soon .....

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