Friday, November 15, 2019

California's historic ferry Madaket sails Eureka's bustling waterfront

The historic Madaket is the last of seven ferries on Humboldt Bay, a relic of the waterfront heyday of Eureka, Calif.
Bruce Keller and Christene "Cookie" Meyers aboard the
Madaket, for a cruise around historic Humboldt Bay.



IN DAYS OF YORE, ferries were critical to transporting the people of Humboldt Bay. They serviced both the boats and businesses along the waterfront as the town's fishing and lumbering industries exploded in a building boom.
Libby Tonning goes by the moniker
"Captain Zippo" and acts as both able
skipper and informed tour guide.
THE LONG, sheltered bay with its narrow entrance was obscured by sand bars extending out farther than normal.  Thus explorer Juan Cabrillo and other adventurers overlooked it in their explorations of the California coast.
Today, the last of seven ferries still transits the waters. The lovingly preserved Madaket is piloted by a self-described "surfer nerd'' who likes to be called Zippo, a nickname bestowed by her boss, a commercial tugboat captain.
WE SET off with Captain Zippo and other passengers, including a family and a couple locals who make the nostalgic journey each year.  On a glorious autumn day, we pulled away from the Humboldt dock, chugging north into New York by water, click here
one of the most pristine bays on the west coast, perhaps in all the United States. Because few ferries remain to remind us of the glory days, it was a special treat.
The Madaket was built in 1910 and is one of the last reminders of Eureka, California's bustling waterfront days.  The name "Madaket" means "gift of God" and for the people who enjoy the eight-mile cruise, the trip is a gift.
Fishing vessels and buildings are described on a journey
with Capt. Zippo, from May into September. 

CAPTAIN ZIPPO  is the alter ego of Libby Tonning, a natural born naturalist, storyteller and skipper.  She gives a lively commentary on the area, from early explorer days to the county's present industries, which include cannabis. Her love of Humboldt Bay is obvious from the moment we spot our first bird, a graceful egret. "He's likely from the rookery on Indian Island," says Zippo.
She guides us past sawmills, boat life, fish-packing plants, private yachts, bird sanctuaries and more, giving a lively synopsis of decades of history, development and change.
A piece of artwork near the Madaket ticket
booth in Old Town waterfront, Eureka.

SHE POINTS out Samoa Beach, where the USS Milwaukee ran aground in 1916, pulling closer to remnants of trestles built to salvage the 400-foot Navy cruiser.
The Carson Mansion is considered the country's
finest example of Queen Anne architecture.
The Madaket is the oldest continuously operating passenger vessel in the U.S. She also boasts the state's smallest licensed bar, where we enjoyed sodas while the locals sipped chardonnay.
THE 90-MINUTE trip is both history lesson and pleasant afternoon. We learn of fish processing plants and see which boats bring in clams or oysters. We Another historic vessel, click here
view where douglas fir is cut and readied for  China. We learn of the native people, the indigenous Wiyot.
A cottage and fishing boats along the harbor's north end.
We admire the stately Carson Mansion, built in 1884 by lumber magnet William Carson. It's a towering Victorian house in Old Town, not far from the harbor.
The house is regarded as one of the best examples of American Queen Anne Style architecture.
OUR SKIPPER, a 31-year old New Mexico native, fell in love with Humboldt Bay when she visited as a teen on a family vacation. She returned to attend Humboldt State University, majoring in marine fisheries.  But she was drawn more to surfing and boats, so she cultivated sea time, studying for her captain’s license.  She earned it in 2017 and signed on at Madaket where she continues as both skipper and tour guide. She also surfs, scuba-dives, and works as a hand aboard Zerlang tugboats."I can't imagine doing anything else," she says as we pull along the dock for her next passengers. Madaket also offers cocktail cruises during the season. 707 445-1910

Thanksgiving in southern France for us included a wine tasting with several small
 courses and  plenty of delicious cheese.  The accommodating Provencals
 also provided tasty non-alcoholic beer, warm baguettes and berries.  
UP NEXT: Come along with us as we travel outside the United States to celebrate Thanksgiving on foreign soil. Although it's not a holiday in most places we go, we nod to this traditional American holiday with paella, pudding and prosciutto, blue cheese and baguettes, remembering to be thankful for a multitude of things. Those include our ability to travel, immerse ourselves in other cultures, their art, music and theater.  And always, we enjoy their food. Remember to explore, learn and live and catch us each Friday for a fresh look at travel, nature, art, food, family and more:  


  1. Hakansak Boat LoversNovember 16, 2019 at 6:58 AM

    Wonderful story of a thrilling time on the water. We love that boat.

  2. What a charming story. Love the captain and her small tidy ship.

  3. Trip in this delightful bay was a highlight of our 25th wedding anniversary celebration. The cute bar tender made us a special cocktail. The captain's knowledge truly amazing! Loved her backstory.

  4. Excellent to know, for we are annual visitors.

  5. What fun you have sharing your discoveries. I had no idea this beautiful little boat existed so near us.