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The square-rigged Star of Alaska, now under her original name Balcutha and moored in San Francisco’s Maritime Historical Park at Hyde Street Pier. This ship sailed for many years in the Northwest lumber and Alaskan salmon trades with SUP gangs. In the forecastle where the sailors lived, the bunks were narrow as planks, the room open to the sea through the hawsepipes. The food was terrible, the discipline was infamously sadistic, and sailors had deducted from their pay the cost of their “recruitment” which included exorbitant shoreside bills with boarding-masters, and crimp costs called “blood money.” In the feudal maritime world of the 19th Century, sailors were completely without rights. They were fined and imprisoned for desertion, and they had no legal recourse against the brutality of “bucko” mates. Inside the first issue of the Coast Seamen’s Journal in 1894, there was a feature called The Red Record, which publicized the cases of the sometimes murderous persecution of sailors aboard ships like these. The Red Record proved a powerful tool for the SUP, and together with assiduous political action, the tide began to turn.


photo from SUP archives