History of Golden Gate Ferry Service

 

Golden Gate Transit System Established
Golden Gate Sausalito Ferry Launched
Golden Gate Larkspur Ferry Route Starts
Golden Gate San Francisco Ferry Terminal Opens
Spaulding Converted from Gas Turbine to Diesel
Two High-Speed Catamarans Added to Fleet

M.S. Marin Refurbished
Two More High-Speed Catamarans Added to Fleet
Overview of Golden Gate Ferry Operations
Golden Gate Ferry Services During Emergencies
Golden Gate Ferry Special Event Services
Golden Gate Ferry Dateline
Golden Gate Ferry Managers
Golden Gate Ferry Vessel Particulars
Golden Gate Ferry Improvement Project Summary

Golden Gate Ferry Ridership Statistics

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August 15, 1970 - August 15, 2010

   

January 1979, The Golden Gate Ferry System, by then Ferry Division Manager Stanley M. Kowleski (7MB PDF)

Golden Gate Transit System Established

Crossing the San Francisco Bay by ferry dates back to 1850 when ferryboats operated between San Francisco and Oakland.

In 1868, the Sausalito Land and Ferry Company purchased waterfront land in Sausalito and proceeded to layout streets and subdivide the central waterfront into view lots. They also began to operate ferry service between Sausalito and San Francisco, in part as a promotion for real estate development. The Princess, a small steamer was the first Sausalito ferry to serve San Francisco. A rail line also attracted people to what became a major transportation hub.

In 1875, the North Pacific Coast Railroad purchased the ferries. Then in 1907, the Northwestern Pacific Railroad purchased the railroad lines serving Marin County and the ferry service serving San Francisco. Sausalito became the hub of passenger transportation. In 1920, due to the unresponsiveness of the Northwestern Pacific Railroad to the demand for auto ferries passage, a new ferry company, the Golden Gate Ferry Co., was inaugurated and offered auto ferry service between San Francisco and Sausalito.

Prior to the opening of the Golden Gate Bridge, ferry and rail service flourished. Following the opening of the Bridge in May 1937, ferry service between Marin and San Francisco declined and eventually came to an end on Friday, February 28, 1941. For the next 29 years, driving across the Bridge was the only way to travel directly between Marin and San Francisco.

Just over 3.3 million vehicles crossed the Golden Gate Bridge during the first full year of operation. By 1967, annual crossings had grown over 750 percent to 28.3 million vehicles. The Bridge was close to reaching the saturation point and the public needed an alternative to the private automobile.

As the traffic congestion continued to increase, a number of studies were undertaken to identify alternate means of travel between Marin County and San Francisco. The May 1967 San Francisco-Marin Crossings, prepared by the Division of Bay Toll Crossings, State of California explored numerous transportation solutions including building a second bridge, a bridge to Angel Island connecting to Tiburon, and an underwater tube linking San Francisco and Marin. A number of lower deck options for the Bridge were also investigated. As a fixed, six-lane roadway, the Bridge could not be as easily expanded to accommodate traffic growth as was the case with other highways.

At the time, Greyhound provided transit between Marin County and San Francisco and it was so unprofitable that management wanted to abandon it. Marin County Transit District (now known as Marin Transit) considered taking over the existing Greyhound bus system as a commute service to San Francisco.

By the late 1960s, the span was at capacity during the morning commute. The original construction bonds were due to be retired and the District had approximately $22.8 million in reserves. An innovative solution was needed to provide much needed relief to the traffic congestion.

Released in July 1969, Arthur D. Little, Inc.’s report, Feasibility Study of San Francisco-Marin Ferry System, funded by Marin County Transit District and the City and County of San Francisco, indicated that a ferry system was feasible and should be implemented and operated by the Golden Gate Bridge and Highway District.

On November 10, 1969, the California State Legislature passed Assembly Bill 584 authorizing the District to develop a transportation facility plan for implementing a mass transportation program in the U.S. Highway 101/Golden Gate Corridor. This was to include any and all forms of transit, including ferry. At that time, the word “Transportation” was added to the District name to indicate its new commitment to public transportation. The Legislature did not give the District the authority to levy taxes, nor could Bridge tolls support local transit services – only intercounty, regional service could be subsidized by Bridge tolls. The mandate was clear  – reduce traffic congestion on the Bridge and the adjacent corridor to the north.

On January 12, 1970, the GGBHD contracted with Philip F. Spaulding and Associates to design a commuter passenger ferry system between Marin and San Francisco. Their August 21, 1970 report, Golden Gate Commuter Ferryboat System, San Francisco – Marin Crossing, concluded that a ferry system would be successful in diverting as many as 5,800 commuters per weekday during its first year of operation, keeping up to 2,900 cars per weekday off the Bridge.

On December 10, 1971, California Assembly Bill 919 was passed requiring the District to develop a longer range transportation programs for the corridor. After extensive public outreach including 21 public hearings in six counties, a unified system of buses and ferries emerged as the best means to serve the people of Marin and Sonoma counties. This public transit network is commonly known today as Golden Gate Transit (GGT) and Golden Gate Ferry (GGF).

On August 15, 1970, the District took its first step into the transit business by inaugurating GGF service from Sausalito, CA, in southern Marin County to San Francisco. On the same day, GGT began operation of limited bus service to/from the Sausalito Ferry Landing.

GGT basic service from Sonoma and Marin counties to San Francisco began on Saturday, January 1, 1972, and was followed by the start of GGT commute service on Monday, January 3, 1972. On Saturday, December 11, 1976, ferry service was expanded to include a second route operating between Larkspur and San Francisco.

The capital cost of GGT and GGF transit system infrastructure was financed by a combination of federal grants from the Urban Mass Transportation Administration (UMTA) and District toll reserves. For example, UMTA funded $14.3 million of the $20 million required to purchase the buses and construct bus maintenance and storage facilities in San Rafael, Novato and Santa Rosa. District toll reserves met the $5.7 million remaining balance.

Since the introduction of GGT and GGF, both systems have become an integral part of life in the North Bay counties of Marin and Sonoma. These services have been reshaped over the years to meet the changing needs of growing communities. And through its growth, GGT and GGF have continued to fulfill the mission of reducing automobile traffic and congestion while contributing to the protection of the environment with efficient, reliable and cost-effective alternatives to the private automobile. In 2008, it was estimated that without GGT and GGF, motorists would experience an increase in Bridge traffic of about 32% during the peak weekday morning commute hour.

 

Golden Gate Sausalito Ferry Launched

Ironically, the very same public agency that contributed to the decline of ferry travel on the San Francisco Bay was called upon to bring it back. In June 1970, working from the 1969 Arthur Little study of the feasibility of water transit, the M.V. (Motor Vessel) Point Loma was purchased by the GGBHD.

The twin-engine, diesel-powered ferry was built and operated as an excursion boat in San Diego, CA. It carried 575 passengers at a speed of 15 knots or 17 miles per hour (mph). The vessel was reconditioned, rechristened the M.V. Golden Gate and placed into service on August 15, 1970, between Sausalito and San Francisco – the official start of Golden Gate Ferry (GGF) service.

golden gate 1970

The original M.V. Golden Gate

After more than 35 years in service, the M.V. Golden Gate was retired from the fleet on March 26, 2004. The M.V. Golden Gate was a sentimental favorite among regular commuters, having carried approximately 21 million passengers over 1.3 million nautical miles during 432,108 round trips.

Following the retirement of the M.V. Golden Gate in March 2004, the Sausalito Ferry route has been served by one of the original high-capacity Spaulding vessels – the M.S. Marin which was originally placed into service between Larkspur and San Francisco on December 11, 1976.

On October 27, 2006, a contract for a complete refurbishment of the M.S. Marin was awarded and funded using 80% Federal Transit Administration grant funds, with the remainder coming from Bridge tolls. In November 2006, after 30 years of service on the San Francisco Bay, the M.S. Marin was taken out service for extensive renovations including all new interior and exterior seating, paint, deck coverings and carpeting, ceilings and wall paneling, lighting, public address system, restrooms, refreshment stand, security cameras, windows, bicycle racks (for up to 70 bicycles), modern accessibility lift, as well as generator and electrical systems. The vessel returned to service on the Sausalito Ferry route on July 28, 2007.

The Golden Gate Sausalito Ferry operates from a ferry landing in the heart of downtown Sausalito at Humboldt and Anchor streets.

As Marin Country began to grow after the turn of the century, Sausalito became the principal “port of entry” for Marin residents and visitors. When the Golden Gate Bridge was proposed in the 1930s, some residents feared the town would wither because the bridge would bypass the town. A movement began to bring the main bridge approach through the center of Sausalito and the main thoroughfare, Water Street, was renamed Bridgeway Boulevard. Another group of residents were up in arms at the prospect of bridge traffic slicing through the serenity of Sausalito. A compromise was reached: Sausalito got a roadway direct to the bridge – Alexander Avenue, but the main highway bypassed the town.

 

Golden Gate Larkspur Ferry Route Starts

Acting on the August 1970 report commissioned by the GGBHTD, Golden Gate Commuter Ferryboat System, San Francisco – Marin Crossing, and prepared by Philip F. Spaulding and Associates, Seattle, WA, the GGF system was expanded with the addition of new service between Larkspur and San Francisco. A portion of the north bank of Corte Madera Creek located on the Hutchinson property was designated as the new home for the main ferry terminal. The 25-acre ferry terminal site was purchased for $1.25 million.

Between late 1972 and early 1977, three 715-passenger ferry vessels, designed by Spaulding and Associates, were constructed by Campbell Industries, San Diego. These vessels are referred to even today as Spaulding Class vessels.

 

marin christening

Christening of the G.T. Marin

spaulding construction

Spaulding vessel under construction

sonoma christening

Christening of the G.T. Sonoma

 

The first of the new ferries, the G.T. (Gas Turbine) Marin, was placed into commute service between Larkspur and San Francisco on Monday, December 13, 1976, and, at the same time, a new Larkspur Ferry Terminal (LFT) was dedicated. The second vessel, the G.T. Sonoma, was added to the daily schedule on March 7, 1977. The third vessel, the G.T. San Francisco, arrived September 12, 1977. Initially, two of the three ferries were kept in daily service, with the third serving as an alternate. By the first anniversary of the Larkspur service, over 1.1 million customers had used the service.

Initial passenger amenities at the LFT site included an 18,000 square foot futuristic open air “space frame” designed by the firm Braccia, Debrer & Heglund under the leadership of internationally known architect Jacques de Brer. The LFT parking lot began with 1,000 spaces and, by 2008, was increased to 1,808. Three ferry berths were constructed and expanded to four berths in the 1990s. LFT has a covered paid passenger waiting area, restrooms, and can accommodate up to 72 bikes in racks provided at the facility. The facility is wheelchair accessible.

 

San Francisco Golden Gate Ferry Terminal Opens

On June 17, 1978, the San Francisco Golden Gate Ferry Terminal (SFFT) facility was dedicated. The terminal is located at the foot of Market Street, behind the historic San Francisco Ferry Building. In 2003, a four-year renovation of the San Francisco Ferry Building was completed and is now a major draw for locals as well as tourists with its wide range of specialty shops and open air markets.

sonoma skyline

Enroute from the San Francisco Terminal

On Friday, August 24, 2001, the M.V. Mendocino was christened and the SFFT was rededicated as the Stephan C. Leonoudakis San Francisco Ferry Terminal in honor of Stephan C. Leonoudakis, a retired member of the District’s Board of Directors (Board). Leonoudakis was recognized for his efforts as a key leader in the development of ferry service in the early 1970s. He was appointed to the Board in December 1962. Leonoudakis championed ferries as an alternative to the automobile throughout his nearly forty years of dedicated service as a Board member. A welcoming ceremony for the M.V. Mendocino was also held that same day at the LFT.

SFFT offers restrooms, snacks via vending machines, racks for up to 15 bikes, and is 100% wheelchair accessible.

 

Spauldings Converted from Gas Turbine to Diesel

By Fiscal Year 1977/1978, with annual ridership topping 2 million for the first time, there was demand for even more ferry service. Fuel prices were rising at an alarming rate. When the Spaulding vessels were designed, fuel cost 11 cents per gallon and, by the early 1980s, it was selling for more than $1 per gallon. To provide more frequent service and lower maintenance costs, the three Spaulding vessels were converted from their original gas turbine water jet propulsion systems to twin diesel engines and twin propellers.

In December 1983, the first of the Spaulding G.T. vessels was sent to San Diego for conversion to diesel power and by November 17, 1985, all three Larkspur ferries had returned and were rechristened with the designation M.S. (Motor Ship).

3 spauldings

The 3 Spaulding vessels

With a speed of 20.5 knots or 23.6 mph, and a travel time of 45 minutes, the Spauldings could still cross the San Francisco Bay in times comparable to those driving to San Francisco across the Golden Gate Bridge. Beginning in November 1985, for the first time, all three Spaulding vessels provided service between Larkspur and San Francisco allowing expansion of the commute, midday and weekend schedules. The following year, ridership increased over 10%. At the same time, fuel costs dropped 60% and maintenance costs were reduced by $300,000 annually.

In March 2001, a contract was awarded for the second repowering of the Spaulding Class vessels after GGF received $1.5 million through the Bay Area Air Quality Management District’s Carl Moyer grant fund program to replace all six engines (two per vessel) with more efficient engines. These installations were completed in 2001 and 2002.

 

Two High-Speed Catamarans Added to Fleet

On Tuesday, September 8, 1998, the most critical improvement to the GGF system was introduced. GGF expanded services between Larkspur and San Francisco with the launch of the first high-speed catamaran, the M.V. Del Norte. This significant milestone offered customers new commute options that included more frequent trips, better departure times, and faster crossings.

del norte arrival

The M.V. Del Norte arrives in the San Francisco Bay

The M.V. Del Norte is a 135-foot, 390-passenger, two-deck lightweight catamaran propelled by four diesel engines. It is capable of cruising at 36 knots or 41.4 mph, as compared to a Spaulding vessel that travels at 20.5 knots or 23.6 mph. The speed of the high-speed catamaran reduced overall crossing time between Larkspur and San Francisco from 45 minutes to 30 minutes. With the addition of the M.V. Del Norte, the number of weekday round trips was increased from 16 trips per weekday to 26. The Larkspur route continued to be served by three Spaulding vessels and the M.V. Del Norte.

In April 2000, with Larkspur ridership up more than 10%, a contract to construct a second high-speed catamaran was awarded. The christening ceremony for the M.V. Mendocino was held on July 20, 2001, in Noyo Harbor near Fort Bragg in Mendocino County, as the vessel was making its way to Larkspur from Freeland, WA, where it was built by Nichols Bros.

The M.V. Mendocino, a 141-foot, three-deck, 450-passenger, high-speed catamaran entered into service on the Larkspur route on Monday, September 10, 2001, along with the introduction of a newly designed free shuttle bus-to-ferry system (which was subsequently eliminated in 2003 due to low ridership and high operating costs). Offering an increased passenger capacity of 450, up from the 390-passenger M.V. Del Norte, the M.V. Mendocino also makes the crossing to/from San Francisco in 30 minutes.

4 vessels

Escorting the M.V. Mendocino

With two high-speed catamarans, the Larkspur route now offered 41 high-speed weekday crossings, up from 26. With the addition of the M.V. Mendocino, the Larkspur route was served by the two high-speed catamarans, and just one Spaulding vessel.

From December 2002 to December 2003, to ensure its long-term viability as substantial warranty work was required on the M.V. Mendocino, the vessel was taken out of service and sent back to the original builder who made the necessary repairs at no cost to GGF. It was determined that the aluminum used for the hull was constructed using a process that did not meet stringent marine engineering and U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) regulations.

To reduce GGF operating cost, in July 2004, Larkspur Ferry service was reconfigured so that just the two high-speed catamarans would provide the weekday service (with the exception of the addition of one late afternoon San Francisco departure which is operated by a Spaulding vessel due to the large number of returning commuters at that time).

 

M.S. Marin Refurbished


On October 27, 2006, the Board awarded a contract for a complete refurbishment of the M.S. Marin. The project was funded using 80 percent Federal Transit Administration grant funds, with the remainder coming from Bridge tolls.

In November 2006, after 30 years plying the San Francisco Bay, the M.S. Marin was taken out service for extensive renovations including all new interior and exterior seating, paint, deck coverings and carpeting, ceilings and wall paneling, lighting, public address system, restrooms, refreshment stand, security cameras, windows, bicycle racks (for up to 70 bicycles), modern accessibility lift, as well as generator and electrical systems. The vessel returned to service on the Sausalito Ferry route on July 28, 2007.

 

Two More High-Speed Catamarans Added to Fleet

In January 2009, GGF purchased two Washington State Ferry vessels, the M.V. Snohomish and the M.V. Chinook, for $2.2 million each. They were built in the late 1990s, operated for three years, and had been inactive since September 2003. Using predominantly grant funding, both vessels underwent a complete refurbishment to provide “like-new” vessels at an estimated cost of nearly $10 million each.

The M.V. Snohomish arrived in Larkspur on May 11, 2009, and entered service on May 28, 2009, to provide customers continuity with reliable high-speed catamaran service during an extensive repowering of the M.V. Del Norte. The vessel was renamed as the M.V. Napa on June 10, 2009.  After the return of the M.V. Del Norte to service on October 8, 2010, the M.V. Napa was taken out of service to undergo refurbishment. The vessel is expected to return to Larkspur by the end of 2011.


The M.V. Chinook, renamed the M.V. Golden Gate, was refurbished from April 2010 to March 2011 and delivered to Larkspur on March 29, 2011. It was officially renamed the M.V. Golden Gate at a ceremony at the Larkspur Ferry Terminal on June 10, 2011.

 

Overview of Golden Gate Ferry Operations

GGF operates two commute passenger ferry routes across the San Francisco Bay that connect Marin County and the City and County of San Francisco: (1) Larkspur/San Francisco: 11.25 nautical miles/13.01 statute miles, and (2) Sausalito/San Francisco: 5.5 nautical miles/6.33 statute miles. Today, GGF operates 41 weekday crossings and 9 weekend/holiday crossings on the Larkspur-San Francisco route; 18 weekday crossings and 13 weekends/holiday crossings on the Sausalito/San Francisco. There is no ferry service on New Year’s, Thanksgiving, and Christmas days.

Headquartered in Larkspur, CA, in central Marin County, under the direction of the Deputy General Manager for the Golden Gate Ferry Division, 90 employees are responsible for the operation of the ferry fleet. The workforce includes vessel masters (captains), operations supervisors, ticket agents, terminal assistants, deckhands, mechanics, and storekeepers, in addition to supervisory and administrative personnel.

Each weekday, operations supervisors, terminal personnel, vessel masters, and crew arrive by 5:00 am to prepare the vessels for departure. The team effort begins in the vessel’s power plant as operators conduct daily inspections of engines, generators, bilges, tanks, and other key systems. Deckhands replenish the water supply before double-checking the cleanliness of passenger areas. Vessel masters, working from the pilot house, receive updates on weather, tidal, and traffic conditions as ticket agents, terminal assistants, and operations supervisors begin greeting passengers.

By 5:50 am, the first of many trips across San Francisco Bay is underway. The round-the-clock activity continues back on shore with maintenance crews and administrative staff ensuring that all is running smoothly. Swing and grave shift crews work throughout the night inspecting, maintaining, and repairing vessels in preparation for another day’s operation on the bay.

life preserver

All of the vessels are part of an on-going maintenance program established to assure reliable and safe mechanical operation. In addition to daily and weekly inspections, all vessels must undergo annual dry docking for a rigorous top to bottom inspection and other modifications as required by USCG standards.

The depths in the Larkspur Channel must be maintained by periodic dredging in order for the vessels to be able to reach the Larkspur Ferry Terminal. The 13,000-foot channel is dredged periodically to maintain a depth of 13 feet. Shoaling (a process whereby the channel progressively fills with silt over time) occurs at an average rate of a half-foot per year.

 

Golden Gate Ferry Services During Emergencies

The GGF system has played an important role during regional emergencies over the years. Here are a few key examples:

  • In January 1982, a massive rainstorm hit the North Bay. Virtually cut off from San Francisco due to mudslides and flooding, more than 16,000 passengers relied upon GGF to cross the San Francisco Bay.
  • Following the October 17, 1989, Loma Prieta Earthquake south of San Francisco, the Oakland-San Francisco Bay Bridge was closed for one month. During this time, GGF ridership increased significantly.
  • During the week of September 8, 1997, twenty-six hundred workers shut down San Francisco’s Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system when they went on strike. Larkspur Ferry was an alternate choice, and ridership increased significantly during the strike.
  • Over Labor Day weekend in 2007 and 2009, the Oakland-San Francisco Bay Bridge was closed in both directions for necessary seismic retrofit work. During this time, to offer alternatives to motorists, GGF added service to both Sausalito and Larkspur routes.

Golden Gate Ferry Special Event Services

From 1979 through 2005, the Annual Commemorative Earthquake Survivor Ferry Ride was held on the anniversary of the of the 1906 Earthquake—April 18. In keeping with the spirit of emergency assistance that was offered by tugboats, fireboats, ferryboats and military vessels to the people of San Francisco after the great quake, GGF provided a backdrop for remembering the heroes, reminiscing and visiting with others who were on the scene. The service was suspended in 2005 as the number of quake survivors had dwindled to a handful.

In 1983, the inauguration of the "Merry Ferry" offered holiday shoppers the chance to see Santa and win cool prizes and giveaways onboard extra trips offered on the Larkspur route. Shuttles to and from San Francisco's Union Square were an added bonus for weary shoppers.

 

merry ferry
 

lunch bunch

Lunch Bunch - the spring, summer, and fall favorite!

 
lunch bunch brochure

 

From 1984 to 2007, the ever-favorite, "Lunch for the Office Bunch," offered San Francisco Financial District workers a treat on Fridays in the spring, summer and fall onboard the Sausalito route. Celebrants could bring their lunch onboard or enjoy something from the snack bar. Entertainment was provided at a discounted fare.

Since 1992, added “Bay to Breakers” Larkspur Ferry service has been provided for race participants in the annual San Francisco race whose start line is just blocks from the SFFT.

Since March 31, 2000, dedicated San Francisco Giants Baseball Ferry Service has been provided between Larkspur and the newly opened waterfront ball park located in downtown San Francisco. This special service has become a favorite mode of transportation from the North Bay to the ballpark due to its convenience.

giants ferry

The Giants Ferry docks just steps from the ballpark

 

Golden Gate Ferry Dateline

1967: Concern over increasing traffic congestion on the Golden Gate Bridge triggered the San Francisco Board of Supervisors to ask the GGBHD Board of Directors to being exploring the idea for ferry service between San Francisco and Marin County.

July 1969: Arthur D. Little, Inc. prepared a report, Feasibility Study of San Francisco-Marin Ferry System, funded by Marin County Transit District and the City and County of San Francisco, indicated that a ferry system was feasible and should be implemented and operated by the GGBHD.

November 10, 1969: Assembly Bill 584 authorized the Golden Gate Bridge and Highway District to develop a transportation facility plan for implementing a mass transportation program in the U.S. Highway 101/Golden Gate Corridor and the agency’s name was changed to Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District.

January 12, 1970: GGBHTD contracted Philip F. Spaulding and Associates, Seattle, WA, to design a commuter ferry system between Marin and San Francisco. They released their report to the Board of Directors on August 1, 1970. Click here for a few excerpts of the report.

August 1, 1970: Spaulding and Associates released their report Golden Gate Commuter Ferry Boat System. Click here for a few excerpts of the report.

Saturday, August 15, 1970: Golden Gate Sausalito Ferry service begins.

golden gate

The original M.V. Golden Gate departing Sausalito

February 1972: The Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District purchased a 25-acre site in Larkspur, CA for a future ferry terminal.

August 1972: Campbell Industries, San Diego, CA submits the low bid to construct three Spaulding Class ferry vessels for use on a second ferry route between Larkspur and San Francisco.

December 12, 1972: Construction of the first of three Spaulding Class vessels begins at Campbell Industries, San Diego.

October 1973: A long-term lease began between the San Francisco Port Commission and GGF commenced for the use of the San Francisco Golden Gate Ferry Terminal location.

September 1974: Williams & Burrows, Inc. was awarded a contract to build the Golden Gate Larkspur Ferry Terminal.

October 1, 1974: U.S. Army Corp of Engineers authorizes GGF to undertake necessary dredging in Corte Madera Creek in preparation for Larkspur Ferry services.

May 22, 1976: The G.T. Sonoma christened at Campbell Industries, San Diego, CA.

Saturday, December 11, 1976: Golden Gate Larkspur Ferry Terminal is dedicated and the first Spaulding Class vessel built was placed into service as the G.T. Marin. Over the opening weekend, 6,100 passengers plied the San Francisco Bay aboard Golden Gate Larkspur Ferry. See special GGF ticket from first day of service for the G.T. Marin.

Monday, December 13, 1976: Commute service commences on the Larkspur-San Francisco ferry route.

March 7, 1977: The second Spaulding Class vessel, G.T. Sonoma, enters service on the Larkspur-San Francisco route.

April 1977: Construction begins on the Golden Gate San Francisco Ferry Terminal.

September 12, 1977: The third Spaulding Class vessel is delivered to Larkspur, the G.T. San Francisco. Two ferry vessels are kept in service with the third serving as a back-up vessel.

December 11, 1977: First anniversary of service from Larkspur. During the first year of operation, 1,183,781 passengers were served.

June 17, 1978: San Francisco Golden Gate Ferry Terminal was dedicated.

April 18, 1979: First annual commemorative 1906 earthquake ferry ride is offered to survivors of the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake and Fire. This special event service was offered annually through 2005.

1980: Marketing Department conducted a survey of ferry passengers and learned that they want more frequent service, connecting bus shuttle in San Francisco, and adequate overhead shelter added to the “space frame” of the Larkspur Ferry Terminal.

January 4 to 7, 1982: After days of constant rain, mud slides closed Highway 101 from the evening of January 4 through the evening of January 6. The Larkspur Ferry system carried a record number of commuters, reaching a high of 12,028 on January 6. On January 6 and 7, three additional vessels were chartered to assist with the high passenger demand.

May 19, 1982: Dedication ceremonies took place for the Larkspur Ferry Terminal Pedestrian Overpass which connects the terminal site with the Larkspur Landing site located across Sir Francis Drake Boulevard.

December 1983: Golden Gate Ferry inaugurated the Merry Ferry event which continued annually through 2005, offering onboard holiday surprises during the holiday season.

dispatch

December 12, 1983: Operating the ferry fleet using gas turbine propulsion was costly. To reduce costs, service was limited to the use of two vessels and just two of the three turbine engines were used. G.T. San Francisco is the first of the three Spaulding vessels returned to San Diego to undergo conversion from gas turbine propulsion to diesel. By converting to diesel fuel, there was a 60% reduction in fuel costs and additional reductions in maintenance costs.

December 24, 1984: The G.T. San Francisco returns to service on the Larkspur route, now designated as the M.S. (Motor Ship) San Francisco.

January 2, 1985: The G.T. Marin left Larkspur bound for San Diego to undergo conversion to diesel propulsion.

May 26, 1985: The G.T. Marin delivered back to San Francisco.

June 3, 1985: The G.T. Marin returns to service on the Larkspur route.

June 1985: The G.T. Sonoma goes to San Diego for conversion to diesel. Larkspur Ferry resumes year-round midday and weekend ferry service using the remaining two ferry vessels.

Sunday, November 17, 1985: The three Spaulding Class vessels (M.S. San Francisco, M.S. Marin, M.S. Sonoma) rechristened with their new Motor Ship (M.S.) designation after undergoing engine conversion from gas turbine to diesel propulsion in San Diego.

Monday, November 18, 1985: A third ferry vessel was added to the Larkspur route to increase the frequency of service using all three Spaulding Class vessels for the first time.

March 1986: A covered passenger waiting area was added within the existing “space frame” structure at Larkspur Ferry Terminal.

 

larkspur waiting area

Covered waiting area added for passengers

 

larkspur waiting area 2

Larkspur Terminal's "space" frame

 

Thursday, December 11, 1986: Larkspur Ferry celebrates its 10th Anniversary aboard the 4:50 pm, 5:20 pm, and 6 pm departures from San Francisco to Larkspur. On each departure, three regular commuters were selected to serve as honorary captain, first mate, and deckhand. Commemorative plates, cast from surplus aluminum used to build the Spauldings and etched with the design of the G.T. San Francisco were given away while supplies lasted.

September 20, 1989: Passenger Tara Figone was named the 10 millionth Larkspur Ferry rider since service started in 1976.

ribbon cutting
Celebrating GGF's 20th anniversary in 1990

May 1992: Golden Gate Ferry adds service for the first time to the Bay to Breakers race in San Francisco.

June 1994: A construction project to add a fourth berth at the Larkspur Ferry Terminal was completed.

July 1995 through November 1995: An Initial Study and Environmental Assessment for the proposed acquisition of a new ferry vessel and the expansion of the Larkspur Ferry service schedule was circulated for public and agency comment. A negative declaration was adopted by the GGBHTD Board.

March 28, 1997: The name M.V. Del Norte was approved by the Board of Directors to adorn the first high-speed catamaran soon to be added to the Golden Gate Larkspur Ferry fleet.

October 30, 1997: M.V. Del Norte was christened in Anacortes, WA.

July 3, 1998: Golden Gate Larkspur Ferry starts six-month trial for Friday Night Only, Late Night Ferry Service with one departure added from San Francisco to Larkspur at 11:15 pm. Due to low ridership, the trial service was suspended on December 18, 1998.

July 22, 1998: The M.V. Del Norte departs Anacortes, WA, head to Larkspur, CA.

July 23 and 24, 1998: M.V. Del Norte makes a stop in Crescent City, CA for welcoming and christening ceremonies in her namesake County of Del Norte on the way to Larkspur, CA.

July 25, 1998: M.V. Del Norte arrives under the Golden Gate Bridge from Anacortes, WA.

Friday, August 28, 1998: Two welcoming ceremonies are held for the M.V. Del Norte – one at LFT and one at SFFT.

Tuesday, September 8, 1998: Golden Gate Larkspur Ferry expands service schedules between San Francisco and Larkspur with the launch of the new high-speed catamaran, M.V. Del Norte.

Thursday, March 31, 2000: Direct service to the San Francisco Giants baseball stadium in San Francisco begins.

April 14, 2000: Board of Directors awarded a contract to Nichols Bros. Boat Builders, Inc., Freeland, WA to construct GGF’s second high-speed catamaran, the M.V. Mendocino.

Friday, July 20, 2001: Golden Gate Ferry’s second high-speed catamaran, M.V. Mendocino, makes a stopover at Noyo Harbor, Fort Bragg, CA, in her namesake County of Mendocino, and christening ceremonies are held.

July 22, 2001: M.V. Mendocino arrives under the Golden Gate Bridge.

Friday, August 24, 2001: M.V. Mendocino was christened and the SFFT was rededicated as the Stephan C. Leonoudakis San Francisco Ferry Terminal. A welcoming ceremony for the M.V. Mendocino is also held that same day at LFT.

Monday, September 10, 2001: M.V. Mendocino is placed into service between Larkspur and San Francisco.

2001 and 2002: All three Spaulding Class vessels are repowered with new more modern and efficient diesel engines.

2002: San Francisco History Association bestowed the Ron Ross Founder’s Award to the Golden Gate Ferry Division for the operation of the annual 1906 Earthquake and Fire survivors commemorative ferry rides.

December 2002 to December 2003: To ensure its long-term viability as substantial warranty work was required on the M.V. Mendocino, the vessel was taken out of service and sent back to the original builder who made the necessary repairs at no cost to the District. It had been determined that the aluminum used for the hull was constructed using a process that did not meet stringent marine engineering and U.S. Coast Guard regulations.

March 26, 2004: The original Golden Gate Sausalito Ferry vessel, the M.V. Golden Gate, was retired from the fleet. Since the Golden Gate’s retirement, the Sausalito-San Francisco route has been served by M.S. Marin.

October 27, 2006: A $6.2 million contract was awarded to Bay Ship & Yacht Company in Alameda, CA, for the refurbishment of the interior of the Spaulding Class vessel M.S. Marin. The project was funded using 80% Federal Transit Administration grant funds, with the remainder coming from Golden Gate Bridge tolls.

November 2006 to July 2007: M.S. Marin undergoes extensive refurbishment including new seating, paint, deck covering, carpeting, ceiling and wall paneling, lighting, public address system, restrooms, refreshment stands, security cameras, windows, bicycle racks, and modern handicap lift. New generator and electrical systems are also installed.

 

interior1

The M.S. Marin's new snack bar

 

marin

The refurbished M.S. Marin

 

interior2

Friendly passenger seating

 

June 27, 2008: A $1.3 million construction contract was awarded to Ghilotti Bros., Inc. to reconfigure the Larkspur Ferry Terminal parking lot to accommodate 1,808 parking spaces. In addition, to improve access to the Terminal for cyclists, a new bicycle bridge was installed at the Terminal entrance. Additionally, improvements were made to the bike/pedestrian path and existing bicycle racks were replaced with new ones. The improvements also included new perimeter signage, new in-roadway lighting systems at two crosswalks, installation of new benches at two viewing areas, and installation of traffic slowing speed bumps at four locations. Construction was completed in May 2009.

October 10, 2008: The Board of Directors authorized the elimination of the Golden Gate Ferry “Frequent Ferry Rider” discount ticket books, effective December 31, 2008, and approved the transition to TransLink (now Clipper) smartcard fare payment as the sole means for receiving frequent rider discounts aboard Golden Gate Ferry.

October 22, 2008: Golden Gate Ferry hosted an interagency rescue drill in coordination with United States Coast Guard Sector San Francisco which took place off the shore of Paradise Cay near Corte Madera, CA. The drill was designed to test the Bay Area Vessel Mutual Assistance Plan including agency emergency evacuation capabilities and mass rescue operations, as well as the ferry system transportation infrastructure. The GGF exercise allowed participants the opportunity to test interagency coordination, communications, and planning effectiveness, and strengthen agency partnerships that are invaluable in maintaining a highly effective safety and security posture within the San Francisco Bay Area. Over 150 California Maritime Academy students played the role of passengers as emergency responders simulated response efforts. Exercise participants also included Marin County Sherriff’s Department, National Park Service, and marine units from Alameda, Contra Costa, and Marin counties. The fire departments from Larkspur, Tiburon, Novato, Ross Valle,y and Southern Marin also participated.

January 2009: Golden Gate Ferry purchased two Washington State Ferry vessels, the M.V. Snohomish and the M.V. Chinook, for $2.2 million each. They were built in the late 1990s, operated for three years, and had been inactive since September 2003. Using predominantly grant funding, both vessels underwent a complete refurbishment to provide “like-new” vessels at an estimated cost of nearly $10 million each.


May 11, 2009: The first of the two vessels purchased from Washington State Ferry, the M.V. Snohomish, arrived in Larkspur from Washington State.

May 28, 2009: The M.V. Snohomish entered into service on the Larkspur/San Francisco route to provide customers continuity with reliable high-speed catamaran service during the extensive repowering of the M.V. Del Norte.

June 1, 2009: In a unique partnership, Golden Gate Ferry and Marin Sanitary Service (MSS) unveiled a new onboard recycling program.

June 10, 2009: The M.V. Snohomish was renamed as the M.V. Napa at a ceremony on the Napa River in Napa County.

March 26, 2010: The GGBHTD Board of Directors authorized that the M.V. Chinook, one of two Washington State Ferry vessels purchased by GGF in January 2009, be officially renamed the M.V. Golden Gate following its refurbishment.

April 2010 to March 2011: The M.V. Chinook, now known as the M.V. Golden Gate, underwent rehabilitation in Washington State.

October 8, 2010: After the return of the M.V. Del Norte to service, the M.V. Napa was taken out of service to undergo refurbishment, with an expected return date to Larkspur of late 2011.

March 29, 2011: The fully refurbished M.V. Golden Gate (formerly the M.V. Chinook) was delivered to Larkspur.

April 28, 2011: Golden Gate Ferry hosted a “closed” multi-agency emergency response/security drill on the San Francisco Bay using one of its high-capacity Spaulding vessels in a scenario involving an unidentified explosive device.

June 10, 2011: The M.V. Chinook was officially renamed as the M.V. Golden Gate at a ceremony at LFT.

July 8, 2011: The last day of full-time operation of the GGF ticket sales windows at LFT and SFFT as ticket vending machines are fully operational at these locations.

Late 2011: The M.V. Napa is due back in Larkspur after having undergone a complete refurbishment.

September 7, 2012: An advertising policy for bus and ferry transit facilities was adopted by the Board of Directors. The policy provides for commercial advertising only along with proprietary advertising that promotes the District’s own services. All advertising that involves religion or politics, as well as advertising that depicts anything violent, illegal, obscene, or defamatory, is excluded.

October 26, 2012: The Board authorized the establishment of a capital project to purchase and install two new Tier 2 marine generators on the Golden Gate Ferry Spaulding vessel M.S. Sonoma. The generators were purchased in February 2013 and installed by Admiralty Diesel Services, Inc., Mare Island, CA in early June 2013.

October 31, 2012: Bay Area baseball fans welcomed home the World Champion San Francisco Giants team with a special parade and celebration held in San Francisco. Golden Gate Ferry fans made their enthusiasm known—with record-breaking ridership reaching 14,099 for the day, the highest single ridership day on the Golden Gate Larkspur Ferry route!

December 14, 2012: As part of a larger capital project to develop designs and conduct environmental analyses for improvements at the Larkspur, San Francisco, and Sausalito Ferry Terminal Facilities, the Board adopted a Mitigated Negative Declaration environmental document and approved the conceptual design for the new passenger boarding system at the Sausalito Ferry Terminal.

March 22, 2013: The Board awarded a contract to Salt River Construction Co., Corte Madera, CA, for the San Francisco Ferry Terminal Gangway and Floats Service Life Extension project. The work included replacement of load bearing roller assemblies, bushings, and slides; refurbishment of heavy scored roller tracks; rebuilding and overhaul of hydraulic components; removal, repair, and reapplication of all coatings and other associated refurbishment of the gangways; and replacement of the foam floatation and other associated rehabilitation and repairs on the Terminal’s four floating fender structures. The project was completed in fall 2013.

March 22, 2013: The Board awarded a contract to Johnson Hicks Marine Electronics, Sausalito, CA for the installation of new Automatic Identification System (AIS) on Golden Gate Ferry vessels as the old equipment had reached the end of its useful life. The work included the removal of the old system and installation of the new AIS and the associated auxiliary equipment on each vessel. The AIS systems are USCG required equipment and the operation of the AIS system is critical in maintaining the vessels in passenger service as required by the USCG. The installation as completed in July 2013.

March 22, 2013: The Board awarded a contract to Valley Power Systems North, Inc., San Leandro, CA for the needed overhaul of the M.V. Mendocino’s four main engines which are MTU 12V4000M60 engines. The engines were due for routine mid-life overhaul and the work was completed in June 2013.

April 5, 2013: To reduce administrative costs, a new online method for purchasing ferry tickets to San Francisco Giants games was implemented at the start of the 2013 season. Ferry tickets are now purchased online directly through the Giants website so that fans can buy their baseball and ferry tickets with one stop shopping.

April 19, 2013: A project to install new bikes racks at the Larkspur Ferry Terminal and the San Rafael Transit Center was completed. At the Larkspur Ferry Terminal, work included modifications to existing planters in the paid waiting area and installation of new bicycle racks. At the San Rafael Transit Center, in addition to bike racks, the work included installation of map cases, informational kiosks, and signposts.

June 12, 2013: The Ferry Division hosted an interagency emergency response exercise on the San Francisco Bay. The exercise was planned and coordinated by the California Maritime Academy, Vallejo, CA and was attended by two dozen agencies with emergency response duties including the United States Coast Guard, Department of Homeland Security, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Marin County Sheriff’s Marine Unit, San Francisco Bay Ferry, Alcatraz Cruises, Blue & Gold Fleet, Larkspur Fire Department, Tiburon Fire Department, Oakland Police and Fire, San Francisco Police and Fire, Richmond Police and Fire, among others. The exercise was designed to test the tactical response to a security-related event occurring in multiple jurisdictions on the San Francisco Bay and concurrently on two ferry vessels: a 715-Golden Gate Ferry Spaulding vessel and a 500-passenger Alcatraz Cruises vessel. The tested scenario included a mass casualty incident resulting in fire and smoke, as well as passenger injuries. Both law enforcement and mutual aid boarding was also tested. The Regional Incident Command System protocols for vessel related incidents, along with fire and emergency resource response capability for an on-water mass causality incident, were also tested.

June 15, 2013: Following a contract award on February 22, 2012, the resurfacing of the Larkspur Ferry Terminal parking lot began in March 2013 and was completed on June 15, 2013. The work also included drainage improvements and the individual numbering of parking spaces.

June 27, 2013: A contract was awarded to Marine Group Boat Works, LLC, San Diego, CA for the refurbishment of Golden Gate Ferry’s Spaulding vessel—M.S. San Francisco. The refurbishment will involve all vessel components with the exception of the original hull and two generators that were replaced as part of an earlier Carl Moyer emissions reduction grant. The work is expected to take approximately 14 months and is being funded entirely with grant funds from the Federal Transit Administration and the State of California under the Public Transportation Modernization, Improvement and Service Enhance Account program. The M.S. San Francisco is the second of Golden Gate Ferry’s three Spaulding vessels to undergo a complete refurbishment. The M.S. Marin was the first of the Spaulding vessels to be refurbished several years ago. It was returned to service July 28, 2007, where it now operates on the Golden Gate Ferry’s Sausalito route.

 

Golden Gate Ferry Division Managers

H. Donald White, start date as Transit Division Manager, July 16, 1970
Stanley M. Kowleski, start date as GGF Division Manager, July 1971
Eric A. Robinson, start date as GGF Division Manager, May 16, 1984
Carl D. Harrington, start date as GGF Division Manager, December 1997
David Clark, start date as GGF Division Manager, February 8, 2000
James P. Swindler, start date as GGF Division Manager, October 26, 2003

ferry managers

GGF's first three division managers (l-r): Carl D. Harrington,

Stanley M. Kowleski, Eric A. Robinson

Read an article in the January 1998 GGBHTD employee newsletter about Eric Robinson's retirement as Ferry Manager and Carl Harrington's promotion to Ferry Manager.

 

Golden Gate Ferry Vessel Particulars

Golden Gate Ferry Current Capital Project Summary