The U.S. Geological Survey historic scientific research vessel R/V Polaris is leaving the Port of Redwood City after 50 years.
Its new owner, which acquired by the vessel at an auction in October, is taking the Polaris to a shipyard in Alameda in late November to prepare it for sailing to Seattle, where it will be restored to its original private yacht condition. The Polaris was originally built as a pleasure yacht, the Pasada Manana. It has as an overall length of 96 feet, a 20-foot beam, and an 8-foot draft.
According to the USGS, the history of R/V Polaris can be divided into two overarching topical areas, which relate to the 20th century history of the western United States.
The vessel belonged to Lee Allen Phillips, a prominent California businessman and land developer, from 1927 until his death in 1938. He used the Polaris as a pleasure craft and to visit his irrigation projects in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta (also California Delta.). Phillips was a Progressive-era businessman who took a special interest in irrigation and reclamation. The vessel's association with Phillips represents a link to the history of California.
Called the Pasada Manana at the time, the vessel was sold to John Grant, a Los Angeles oilman, in 1938. He kept the vessel until 1944 when the U.S. Army acquired it and used the vessel as a personnel transport in Puget Sound. The vessel changed hands several times after the war until it was acquired by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) in 1966 and berthed at the Port of Redwood City.
The USGS converted the pleasure craft into a research vessel and it has played a role in marine geology and water quality research in Alaska and the San Francisco Bay area.
The Polaris was dispatched to one of the worst oil spills in U.S. history off the coast of Santa Barbara in 1969. A Unocal drilling rig blew out on January 8, 1969, releasing over 3 million gallons of crude oil into the seas near the coast community. The ecological catastrophe contributed to the passage of the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA) less than a year later. The Polaris assisted with spill mitigation efforts.
The Polaris was transferred to the San Francisco Bay Estuarine Studies Group in the early 1970s to be used for data collection supporting estuary research. The Polaris was modified to facilitate its new function. The vessel was fitted with pumps below the waterline to provide a continuous supply of bay water to a series of instruments that recorded temperature, salinity, turbidity, and fluorescence while underway, according to the USGS.
The Polaris was featured in a PBS NOVA program, "Inside the Golden Gate," filmed in 1974. The vessel has also been featured in National Geographic magazine, Sunset magazine, and various local newspapers and television news programs. In 1995, the vessel was the featured guest at the Festival of the Sea hosted by the National Maritime Museum in San Francisco.