Sailboats and Birds and Cannons, Oh My !

A 20 millimeter anti-aircraft cannon in a circular 'tub' to provide protection for the gun crew.

During one of our recent cruises the cannons on the SS Jeremiah O’Brien were unlimbered and fired much to my surprise.  The loud noise from these cannons also surprised the passengers on the ship and scared the other birds away. Some of the other birds like to sit on the gun barrels while on board the ship.  Unfortunately they oftern apply the classic gull salute while squatting on the barrel and the crew is not happy having to clean up after the miscreants.   My theory is that the cannons are used to fend off the sailboats and prevent their crew from coming on board to eat lunch.  I am in favor of this since it is tough enough for me to scavenge food and I don’t need any competition from a bunch of sailboats. There are about ten places on board the ship where the cannons are located.  There are two big ones and eight  smaller ones and they all make loud noises.  I am also in favor of scaring the other birds away, especially that pesky Jonathan Livingston Seagull.  He is such a pretender and a phony and a wanna-be to boot.  Everyone who has half a bird-brain in their head knows that there is no such thing as a ‘Seagull’;  there are Herring gulls, California gulls, and numerous other types of gulls, but no such thing as a Seagull.  Speaking of birds, I saw one of my distant cousins the other day during a bird counting event.  Terry is a Tern and that reminds me of a story I heard one of the crew members tell.  It seems as though there was this mariner whose goal in life was to throw rocks at every Tern he saw.  When one of his shipmates asked him why he did it he replied that it was his intention to leave no Tern unstoned.  I personally don’t get it, but the crew members always laugh politely.

Sailboats and others on San Francisco Bay during Fleet Week.

Editor’s Note:  During Fleet Week the SS Jeremiah O’Brien activated the guns on board.  The Liberty ships were outfitted with both heavy cannon, 3 and 5 inch, and 20 millimeter machine guns.  These were maintained and operated by the  Naval Armed Guard on board the ship.  Since the crew of the Liberty ships were members of the Merchant Marine, and not members of the Armed Forces, they could not ‘legally’ operate the guns.  There was a contingent of approximately 25 members of the US Navy as a part of the crew during World War II. The armament was intended for defense against enemy surface ships, submarines on the surface and aircraft.  The guns on the SS Jeremiah O’Brien are now coverted to operate using propane and only fire for effect and to answer salutes fired from shore during Fleet Week.  They do scare the birds away and they are used during cruises.  The Tern ( Sternidae) is a member of the gull family and distributed world wide.  They are prodigious flyers and will migrate many thousands of miles every year.  Without more information from Bob about his distant cousin we cannot venture a guess as to what type of Tern he might be.  It is not likely that he was born in the area since the terns do not nest in this area.  It is most likely that Terry the Tern was seen while migrating from the arctic or Canada to and from South America.  We can hope he is an Elegant or Royal Tern since those are the largest and most attractive of the local species. 

For more information about the SS Jeremiah O’Brien please visit the web site at or, better yet, visit the ship at Fisherman’s Wharf, Pier 45 and operate the cannons.

Large cannon for use in defense against surface ships. There was one cannon on the fore deck and one at the stern.


One comment on “Sailboats and Birds and Cannons, Oh My !

  1. Pat and Bob Werts says:

    We met you last week at Ben and Nick’s in Rockridge. We will be following your blog.

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