TRIP BACK IN TIME: When Joe Cleary opened his Sunday morning paper, he went 50 years back in time.

His transport was the Wapama, the century-old wooden schooner whose crusty hull was pictured in the Times' local section last week.

"I was shocked when I saw it," Cleary said. "The memories just started rushing back. I said, 'My god, that's my ship!' "

Cleary shared a tale of whimsy, sea dogs and oil paint with The Eye last week because he was on the hunt for his long-lost art. Cleary, an 87-year-old artist and a former Merchant Marine, never quite forgot the paintings he was commissioned to produce for the 200-foot museum ship in the early 1960s.

Cleary said the San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park, the same one that is demolishing the Wapama this month, paid him about $300 apiece to paint five or six oil paintings. Cleary's works included a picture of the captain at the helm of the Wapama, another of brawny sailors playing cards, and one of the massive schooner cutting through the swells off the Pacific Coast.

The paintings were hung in various rooms of the boat for visitors, who frequented it in San Francisco until the 1980s.

When Cleary was making his paintings, the Wapama was getting some touch-up work in Oakland.


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"I remember someone introduced me to an old man, very small and thin with white hair, who was out there on the docks by the boat," Cleary said. "They said he was 90, which really stuck out to me because it was so old, and they said that he was the captain of the ship back in its heyday. All I remember him saying was something to the effect of 'I love that damn boat.' "

Cleary said the Wapama always held a special place in his heart, its wooden beauty such a contrast with the metal hulks he sailed during World War II.

"I saw her one last time in Sausalito in the 1990s," said Cleary, an Orinda resident. "I was there for an art fair, and I just happened to see her out there in the water. I wanted to go aboard, but it was blocked off. ... I could get almost close enough to touch, but I couldn't come aboard. I couldn't have known that it would be my last chance."

REVERSE COMMUTE TO FUN: The Eye encountered two well-dressed, bejeweled older ladies in town for a recent performance by the In the Mood big band at the Lesher Center for the Arts in Walnut Creek.

One of the women -- both of whom were from San Francisco -- asked The Eye about the Lark Creek restaurant. "Is it the same as the one in Marin?"

And then, grinning with enthusiasm, one of them described their plans for the rest of the day in Walnut Creek. "We took the BART. You know, there is this free trolley that just takes you right to the theater. It is so easy," she remarked. The women were then told about Neiman Marcus a few blocks away, and about all kinds of good restaurants within a short walk from the theater. One of them said, "I have heard that Nordstrom is here."

Whereas many growing up in the East Bay often considered a trip to San Francisco a special adventure, it appears these city girls were delighting in making the reverse trip, for the shopping and dining delights the East Bay has to offer. Walnut Creek, be informed the tables are turning on S.F., no pun intended.

Staff writer Robert Rogers and correspondent Dana Guzzetti contributed to this report.