After three years of rehabilitation work, historic Motor Lifeboat 36542 is going home to Point Reyes at Chimney Rock where its crews once plucked people from treacherous seas, and in one mysterious case lost two of its own.
The 36-foot wooden lifeboat stopped at Horseshoe Cove at Fort Baker near Sausalito on Tuesday on its journey from the Francisco Maritime National Historical Park, where it underwent repairs, back to the Marin coast.
On Wednesday it will head to Point Reyes, where the boat first appeared in 1954, a year after construction, and will be used in a working exhibit at the Life Boat Station at Chimney Rock, now an educational facility and National Historic Landmark.
"They will get her back out there, haul her up the gangway and put her to bed," said Steve Jette, a member of the Sonoma Coast Guard Auxiliary. "It will be a museum piece, but it will be our job to get it out once a month so it doesn't sit still."
In its prime, the boat rarely sat still.
The U.S. Life-Saving Service -- the precursor to today's Coast Guard -- in Marin dates back to the late 19th century, and in 1927 it moved operations from the Great Beach to a new station built at Chimney Rock, where the water is calmer. Longer, heavier motorized lifeboats were launched from there via rails by four-person crews, replacing the human-powered surfboats in the 1930s.
"It was like a fire department," said Gordon White, who heads cultural resources at the Point Reyes National Seashore. "The bell would ring and they would push the boat in a cart on rails into the water and off it went."
The boats stationed in Marin saved hundreds over the years as mariners slammed into rugged rocks along the West Marin coast.
"Point Reyes sticks out 10 miles from the coast and ships ran into it before modern navigation," White said.
But bigger boats and modern equipment did not eliminate the danger for surfmen. On Thanksgiving eve, 1960, Coast Guard surfmen Anthony Holmes and Hugh McClements used Motor Lifeboat 36542 to help secure a disabled fishing boat in distress in Bodega Bay. They then radioed their return time to the Life Boat Station, and headed back.
But they were never heard from again.
The next morning, a search crew found the boat had run aground on Point Reyes' Great Beach. Its motor was still running and its propellers were turning, but the surfmen were nowhere to be found. An air, sea and land search failed to turn up the missing men.
The best explanation was that a large wave capsized the boat off the point, throwing the two men into the water. The self-righting lifeboat came up, and engine running, continued on its way, leaving the crew behind in the seas, said John Dell'Osso, chief of interpretation at Point Reyes.
"The boat has a low center of gravity," White noted. "So if the boat flips over, it will go from upside down to right side up."
Motor Lifeboat 36542 operated from Chimney Rock until 1963, when operations were moved to Bodega Bay. The boat operated there until it was decommissioned in 1976. The park service acquired it in the early 1980s and used it off and on through the 1990s, before it was left inside the Chimney Rock boathouse until 2013.
It was then towed to San Francisco for the $45,000 in repairs, including a new engine, which will propel it to Point Reyes.
"It's a piece of our history, it's a piece of national heritage," White said of the value of the restoration. "The Coast Guard has a storied past. This kind of boat, in the rough waters it went into, demonstrates something about our national character."