The city of San Diego was founded in 1542 by Juan Rodrigues Cabrillo, who originally saw how the long dogleg of the bay could be used as a harbour for ships to shelter against the vagaries of the Pacific Ocean. Over the centuries the facilities at San Diego have been progressively enhanced, until today the port can truly be described as a super-port. San Diego is also a military city, being home to the US Navy’s largest naval base on the West Coast. Just 20 miles from the border with Mexico, San Diego has also, within the last 15 years, become a cruise ship centre, with liners tied up right on the quayside, which is just yards from the centre of the city with its bars, cafes and attractions. With the warm Pacific nearby, there is a steady stream of tourist boats in the harbour which, during the whale migration season, take thousands out to glimpse the magnificent creatures as they head north to Alaska.
San Diego’s transport system is controlled by a port authority which also controls all developments at the nearby Lindbergh Field, otherwise known as San Diego International Airport. Since its foundation, the port authority has developed the area so that it has become one of the US’s main strategic ports for commercial, military and pleasure shipping.
The main commercial areas of the port are the cruise ship terminal, 10th Street Terminal, the National City Marine Terminal and NASSCO shipyard. Traffic entering San Diego sails through the relatively narrow entrance between Ballast Point and Zuniga Point on the Coronado side of the bay, which is deep enough to allow 100,000-ton nuclear aircraft carriers and cruise liners to navigate. Near the entrance is Point Loma, home to the patrol boats of the US Coast Guard as well as the US Navy Submarine Base.
The military dominates this stretch of seafront, which is also home to the US Navy deep ocean research centre. The easy access to the deep water of the Pacific makes it an ideal location for the base, whose main aim is oceanographic surveys and research. Large naval auxiliary vessels also use the site and have done so for many years, as the giant holes in the hills behind the centre testify. These features were once coal storage facilities from the days of coal-fired engines.
Good vantage points
San Diego is a ship enthusiast’s paradise: there is good access to the seafront where ships berth, as well as many excellent vantage points for photography. One of the best is at the San Diego Maritime Museum. This attraction has three unique vessels on display: the luxury yacht Medea, the ferry Berkeley and the British-built sailing ship Star of India, the oldest actively sailed iron-hulled vessel in the world, and each of these has an interesting history.
Nearby is B Street Pier, home to San Diego’s Cruise Ship Terminal, which sees around 120 cruise ships visiting the terminal annually. At the other side of B Street Pier are the tour boats that take passengers on harbour cruises and seasonal whale-watching trips. The Coronado ferry also leaves from here, using Silver gate, a vessel which has been on the service since the mid-1940s.
The next pier is Broadway Pier, next to which is Navy Pier, where the massive museum ship USS Midway is now located. The aircraft carrier dominates the city’s seascape and has proved to be a major tourist attraction for the city. USS Midway was homeported at San Diego for many years and it is fitting that she is now based there permanently.
In December 2010 Broadway Pier was redeveloped to serve as a second cruiseship pier. Today nine cruise liners regularly visit San Diego, including those belonging to Carnival, Holland America, Celebrity and Royal Caribbean, with Holland America using San Diego as a homeport during the winter season. The cruise business hit its peak in 2008 with 252 ship calls and over 800,000 passengers, but since then business has fallen to an average of 103 port calls a year.
Pacific tuna is plentiful not far out to sea, and the fishing fleet at San Diego berths near the green park area on ‘G’ Street Pier. Nearby is Seaport Village, the Embarcadero Marine Park and a large marina complex, after which the Port of San Diego’s commercial port facilities are to be found.
Stretching from alongside San Diego’s Convention Centre to the Coronado Bridge, a distance of about two and a half miles, these facilities process all manner of cargoes, but the principal one is sand extracted from the seabed off the coast of California. This is not of the standard required by the construction industry, so large quantities have to be imported through the 10th Avenue Marine Terminal, which is home to a number of companies, including ISP Alginates, North American Terminals Inc, BMH Marine and Team Southwest Marine.
US Navy base
San Diego’s US Navy base is the country’s second largest after Norfolk, Virginia. The base boasts no fewer that 14 piers totalling 12 miles of berthing space, but only one dry dock. Much of the refit work is undertaken by contractors such as NASSCO.