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Golden Gate Ferry Celebrates 50 Years of Serving the Bay Area

August 26, 2020 11:45 AM
The original M.V. Golden Gate

On August 15, Golden Gate Ferry (GGF) celebrated its 50th anniversary of plying the San Francisco Bay. GGF’s history officially began in 1967, when the San Francisco Board of Supervisors asked the Golden Gate Bridge and Highway District (GGBHD) to explore the idea of ferry service between San Francisco and Marin County, to address increasing traffic congestion on the Golden Gate Bridge. In 1969, Assembly Bill 584 authorized the GGBHD to develop a transportation plan to implement a mass transportation program in the U.S. Highway 101/Golden Gate Corridor. The agency’s name was modified to Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District (District).

On Saturday, August 15, 1970, GGF service launched between Sausalito and San Francisco with the M.V. (Motor Vessel) Golden Gate. The vessel remained in service until March 26, 2004, after carrying 21 million riders on 432,000 round trips.

Between late 1972 and early 1977, GGF purchased three 715-passenger "Spaulding" vessels, designed by Philip F. Spaulding & Associates, and manufactured at Campbell Industries in San Deigo. On Saturday, December 11, 1976, the Golden Gate Larkspur Ferry Terminal was dedicated and the first of the new ferries, the G.T. (Gas Turbine) Marin, was placed into service. Over the opening weekend, 6,100 passengers plied the San Francisco Bay aboard GGF. Commute service between Larkspur and San Francisco began the following Monday (December 13, 1976). The second vessel, the G.T. Sonoma, began serving the daily schedule on March 7, 1977. The third vessel, the G.T. San Francisco, arrived on September 12, 1977. By the first anniversary of the Larkspur service, over 1.1 million customers had traveled on the Spaulding ferries.

In 1998, GGF expanded services between Larkspur and San Francisco with the launch of the first high-speed catamaran, the M.V. Del Norte, (photo to the right). This significant milestone offered customers new commute options that included more trips, better departure times, and faster crossings. In 2001, a second high-speed catamaran, the M.V. Mendocino, joined the fleet.     

M.V. Del Norte in Larkspur                      
M.V. Del Norte in Larkspur                  

In 2001 and 2002, all three Spaulding Class vessels were repowered with new, more modern and efficient, diesel engines. In 2006 through 2007, the M.S. Marin underwent a complete refurbishment of the interior, including upgrades to indoor and outdoor seating, new deck covering and carpeting, new bike racks, and a modern wheelchair lift.                                                             

In 2009, GGF added two more high-speed catamarans, the M.V. Napa and the M.V. Golden Gate.

In late 2009, GGF sent the M.V. Del Norte to Nichols Brothers Boat Builders in Freeland, Washington, for an extensive repower project. The project included installing new engines, gears, shafting, generators, and larger waterjets. Upon the M.V. Del Norte’s return to Larkspur in 2010, the M.V. Golden Gate underwent a complete refurbishment and in 2011, the M.V. Napa was similarly refurbished.

In 2013, the District installed two new Tier 2 marine generators on the M.S. Sonoma and the M.V. Mendocino’s engines underwent their mid-life overhaul. In 2014, the M.S. Marin’s engines were rebuilt, as were the M.V. Napa’s jets. Spaulding engines typically need to be rebuilt every ten to twelve years.

In 2014, the M.S. San Francisco underwent a complete refurbishment, including new engines, and returned to service in 2015.

The M.V. Mendocino received a mid-life refurbishment in 2015. It was outfitted with larger water jets and new gear boxes to improve reliability, and expanded by 6 feet in the stern to accommodate those modifications.

In 2017, when Golden Gate Ferry began operating weekday commute ferry service between Tiburon and San Francisco, it was the first time in forty years that GGF expanded its Marin County service area.

When the M.S. Marin received an engine upgrade in 2018, all equipment in the engine room and pilothouse was renewed. The upgrade included the installation of new MTU Tier 3 engines and driveline to reduce emissions and improve the vessel’s fuel efficiency.

Due to the popularity of ferry service, GGF leased a ferry from the east coast in 2019. The one-year lease of the M.V. Millennium helped ease demand on the other ferries during their dry-docking rotation for required maintenance and enhancements. During this time, the M.V. Del Norte’s four main engines were overhauled, the waterjets of the M.V. Golden Gate were refurbished, and Tier 3 engines were installed on the M.S. Sonoma. In addition to new engines, the M.S. Sonoma also receiving a full rebuild with all new equipment and passenger amenities.

Ongoing maintenance of the GGF fleet is required to keep our vessels in top shape so we can continue providing consistent and reliable service to the Bay Area for the next 50 years.

We salute the men and women who have helped make GGF the success it is.


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