The National Defense Reserve Fleet is anchored off the shore of Benicia in Suisun Bay. It consists of ships that are no longer used but are retained in the event they are needed to deal with a national emergency, war, or humanitarian aid. They are in various states of readiness. Some could be ready to serve in a few days, others would require months. Some of the fleet is part of the Ready Reserve Force which can be brought to use in a relatively short time. For some vessels, it would be a matter of a few days.
The fleet contains Navy, Merchant Marine, and Coast Guard vessels. Most of the fleet is cargo ships, transports, tankers, and military auxiliaries. These ships can be seen when driving across the Benicia Bridge and along portions of Highway 680.
Among the collection of grey ghosts are some historic ships. The battleship U.S.S. Iowa can be found among the ranks of the mothball fleet. The U.S.S. Hoga is an ocean going tug that was at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. She worked nonstop for several days recuing survivors and suppressing fires. After being decommissioned from the Navy, she served as a fire boat for the City of Oakland.
The fate of the Mothball Fleet is uncertain. Local communities have concerns about hazardous materials that may be on-board the rusting ships, especially those any with potential for polluting the bay. Political pressure is mounting to have the fleet removed.
Navy Mothball Fleet in Suisun Bay
In the waters of the Suisun Bay, just east of Benicia, is largest naval fleet in the Pacific Ocean--the US National Defense Reserve Fleet. Many of these ships will never see service again, and likely are difficult to salvage due to an abundance of toxic materials in their construction. The engines of all are maintained though, and none are at risk of sinking even though the paint may appear chipped through a pair of binoculars. During the first Gulf War, two ships were called upon to transport troops and supplies to the Middle East. The Navy expects to decommission others for use by humanitarian organizations. Some of the ships are historic--a heroic tug boat from Pearl Harbor and the USS Pueblo--the spy ship once detained for a year by the North Koreans. There's more information in the SFGate article link below. Also, see Google map link for great satelite view. A great place to see the fleet is at a vista point off Hwy 680, between Benicia and Fairfield. Take the Lake Herman Road Exit. Don't stay here at night too long though, as Lake Herman road was also the scene of the first Zodiac serial murder. The Zodiac murderer has never been found.
Fish at the Port of Benicia
Benicia Industries operates a port to serve the refinery and autocarriers. The port is just downriver from the Benicia Bridge. Beneath the north anchorage of the bridge is a popular spot for locals to fish in the Sacramento River. The closest bait shop is on Claverie Way, between West J and West k Streets, and east of West 7th.
Basaic Benicia Page
The first passenger and freight depot was built here near the ferry docks in 1879 upon the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad. They used to transfer the passengers and freight to the ferries for transport to San Francisco. Later entire trains were ferried by large ferries like the "Solano". This building was built in 1887 in the railroad town of Banta and was moved here in 1902 as Banta began to dwindle and Benicia became more and more important as a trade center. In 1930 they completed a bridge between Benicia nd the town of Martinez retiring the ferries. Today this building, which was preserved as close as possible to original, serves as a visitor's center and headquarters to the "Benicia Main Street" organization an historical preservation group.
"Commandant's House at the Arsenal"
This large 20 room mansion built in the New Classical Style was the home of the commandant of the base containing the Benicia Arsenal. It was built in 1860, and has 14 foot ceilings and 2 foot thick walls. This was the social center of the town and guests frequently came by steamboat from San Francisco to attend the parties. Poet Stephen Vincent Benet lived here when his father was commandant of the arsenal. This building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
"The Arsenal Clock Tower"
This stone building overlooks the Carquinez Strait and was built to defend this strategic area. The building has long thin slots to allow rifle fire from inside and larger openings in the front and back for canon fire. The walls are two feet thick. There was originally a third floor and another tower on the rear of the building, but these were destroyed in a fire and were eliminated during the subsequent reconstruction. The Seth Thomas clock in the current tower was placed there as a memorial to Colonel Julian McAllister who commanded the arsenal for 25 years. The building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Former State California Capitol That's Beautiful
"Capitols of California..."
Monterey was the Capitol of Alta California under the Spanish and Mexican governments, a period that lasted a little less than a century. When the California became a state, the Spanish/Mexican seat of power became irrelevant as San Francisco had quickly become a huge tent city with political clout. So, the legislators looked for an ideal place with a good capitol building, access from all parts of the state by the transport of the day, and enough lodging for the lobbists and others required to do the work of government. Benicia, established by a land grant from Mexican-Californio leader General Vallejo, and named for Vallejo's wife, was for a year, a great capitol, for everything except the last of these issues. The building was large and grand, and the ferry boat access to Benicia easy, but many men couldn't find lodging and slept in saloons. Today, the capitol building in Benicia is the only pre-Sacramento capitol building still standing, and it has been completely restored to the standards of the day when it was constructed. But, Benicia is more than a former capitol city, and in many ways a much more pleasant place for a capitol than Sacramento is today because of the scenic Carquinez Straits.
"Sunny with Delta Breezes"
For international visitors, the most likely visit to Benicia would be during a road trip from San Francisco through to the Napa Valley, into the Sacramento River Delta Region, or perhaps during transit to Sacramento or Lake Tahoe via Hwy 680. The charming and historic small town atmosphere, and relatively high quality restaurants and shops along First Street, and the pleasant waterfront walk, raise Benicia's tourism value above some of her neighboring towns such as Martinez, Suisun City, Fairfield, or Vacaville. Contrasting with the otherwise scenic nature of the Benicia is its presence within Northern California's the oil refining region. But, but this factories are pushed back behind a row of hills that rise behind the old center of town. The view across the Carquinez Straits to Martinez does does include tanks and after-burning stacks of two oil refineries, but these are about a mile east of the old town waterfront. Further east also are the unimpressive views of the newly expanded Benicia-Martinez bridge and of the haunted Navy Mothball Fleet. Even so, the city is working to restore some aspects of the natural environment where California Indians had once paddled their canoes among the cattails.