i went on a Farallon Island cruise ship, got so sea sick didn't enjoy it at all, & you can't even get on the island! So bogus.
By Anna Pulley
By Erin Sherbert
By Chris Roberts
By Erin Sherbert
By Rachel Swan
By Joe Eskenazi
By Erin Sherbert
By Erin Sherbert
A degree of recognition of that volunteer's mindset flickers within every long-serving Farallones biologist. One day after disembarking the island this month following a standard six-week haul, Warzybok found himself visiting Ikea at the behest of his significant other. The home-furnishings megastore is not so much smaller than the island he'd just departed. For Warzybok, it's certainly less homey.
"People come to the Farallones and think it's an assault on the senses: The birds calling, the flies coming at you, the seals barking — and the smell," he says. "For me, coming back on the mainland, that's the assault."
Life is so much simpler when everything you need to do is written on the kitchen door.
Nestled into a secluded cove near the breakers on the Farallones' main island is a most curious source of fresh water. The "Amber Spring" produces a seep tasting of "unsweetened lemonade." Nineteenth-century newspaper accounts of the brown liquid attribute it with the ability to, simultaneously, cure diarrhea and serve as a mild laxative.
That's a neat trick. But for the early inhabitants of the Farallones, imbibing this tonic was about as good as it got.
Today's biologists marvel about the islands as nature's Sistine Chapel; there's so much here for them to study. But the Farallones, themselves, serve as a study in context. For those punching the clock on harsh, menial jobs or, worse yet, stationed involuntarily on the islands with the Navy or Coast Guard, life could be extraordinarily bleak.
On a clear day, though, they could still see the city, tantalizing and tantalizingly close (San Francisco's quirky city limits encompass not only the Farallones but portions of Red Rock near the Richmond Bridge). With a telescope, you can detect the traffic lights switching from red to green. You can see the tiny cars moving on the Golden Gate Bridge — for observers on shore's edge, the bridge's roadway actually drops down below the sea line, while its towers majestically soar up out of the water. There is grandeur in this view of life: Every October, for just a few days, the setting sun reflects off the seaward-facing windows in the Richmond and Sunset and all the city blazes.
As the gull flies, you're closer to San Francisco than folks in Novato or Redwood City. But this only enhances the sense of isolation and despair; Alcatraz wasn't the only rock-mounted penitentiary in agonizing proximity to city lights.
"I'm getting awful tired of this loneliness; it is almost as bad as the state prison," penned forlorn lighthouse keeper Amos Clift in the late 1850s. "I had rather live among society and be poorer than Job's Turkey than live where I am and have a fortune. This is the truth.
"After the work is done in the morning we have nothing of any account to do until sunset and I assure you it is hard work to while away the hours."
Misery loves company, and, on the Farallones, the company kept each other miserable. Bile-strewn 19th-century lighthouse records reveal a colony of malcontents who hated their lots in life only slightly less than each other: Mr. Van Bergen was drunk, asleep on his watch and abusive ... Mr. Sherwood used abusive language, ordered me to fight him. ... Mrs. Dow passed the remark that all Lighthouse people are crummy.
Imagine how awfully everyone would have behaved if there weren't a source of diarrhea-curing laxatives on the island.
In 1579, Sir Francis Drake visited what he called the "Isles of St. James." That name didn't stick; posterity has favored "Los Farallones de los Frailes" (The Cliffs of the Friars). Drake did, however, christen a centuries-long tradition of vagabonds killing and carting off anything unable to evade capture.
The grim tally of animals slaughtered on a rock smaller than a municipal golf course is staggering. During a single campaign around 1811, perhaps 150,000 fur seals were culled from the island. Their pelts could fetch an astounding $2.50 apiece in China (or around $1,200 today). A sole otter pelt was worth $40 (upwards of $20,000). Rapaciousness ensued. By 1834, Russian seal hunters on the Farallones found fewer than 60.
Other animals were similarly commoditized and hunted to near-extinction. In 1854, egg-gatherers on the islands pilfered some half a million murre nests in two months alone. Perhaps 14 million hefty, oblong, blue-speckled eggs were carted off the Farallones in the late 19th century. This triggered price wars — and real wars: In 1863, a flotilla of armed interlopers attempted to storm the island and wrest it from the quasi-legal egging establishment. A 20-minute firefight ensued; two men were shot dead (more would have been if the invaders had managed to deploy the four-pound cannon they ditched in a disorganized retreat).
War and its aftermath would touch the Farallones again — and may continue to do so for tens of thousands of years to come.
Between 1946 and 1970, the Navy dumped thousands of 55-gallon drums containing radioactive waste into the Gulf of the Farallones. These barrels were not exactly forged to withstand ocean conditions forever, and certainly weren't helped by the sailors shooting at the floaters until they took on water and sank.
There was no barrel big enough to contain the irradiated hull of the U.S.S. Independence, a light aircraft carrier situated less than 600 yards from the 1946 atomic blast that leveled Bikini Atoll. In 1951, frustrated by failed attempts to cleanse the immolated ship at Hunters Point, the Navy towed the 10,000-ton vessel through the Golden Gate and scuttled it — but not before loading it with additional radioactive material.