The Old Spirit of Sacramento

Sitting in what may be it’s final resting place,  the [Old] Spirit of Sacramento still attracts anyone driving down the Garden Hwy in Sacramento.  Believe it or not, this boat is on land. I visited in February, when the entire bay area and beyond was almost drowned in floods.

Originally named the Putah, (Eek! Haha.) this boat was built in 1942 by Berkeley Steel Construction Company.  It was put to work by the Army Corps of Engineers as a snag boat.  A snag boat would remove anything on the bottom of the river so other vessels wouldn’t get “snagged”.

*Not to confuse this boat with the Spirit of Sacramento;  I had to to dig up MANY articles to get this figured out, as both have had the same name, both are paddle boats, and both have sunk and/or capsized in the Sacramento Delta.  They look different, but because of the same name, they get confused easily.

In 1950, the [Old] Spirit of Sacramento was purchased by John Wayne (Yes, the original badass) for the film Blood Alley, co-starring Lauren Bacall.  After the film’s completion, it was sold to a businessman who renamed it the Mansion Belle and used it for river cruises until the 1960’s.

In 1991, Channel Star Excursions bought and renamed it The Spirit of Sacramento.  It was used as a dinner theatre boat until a fire destroyed the majority of the ship.  A Captain William (Bill) Barker bought what was left of the ship in 1996 for $120k and renamed it The Duke.  The Captain’s plan was to restore it and use it for dinner cruises.

Enter permitting problems and vandals.  Every time the Captain would get to about 90% completion, vandals would steal wiring,  break windows and spray paint the walls.  After a half a million dollars of work being put in and repeated vandalism, the ship sank in its place.

(Fun fact: Google earth shows its original location as Little Pocket, Sacramento on River Rd. This is where it sank. It has since been moved.)

Once it sank, nearby residents became increasingly worried that if it somehow got loose and moved downstream, it would wreck other boats.  The Captain then moved it to a private marina, where it is currently moored.


The Captain was working with the marina to re-vamp the boat and use it as a floating restaurant.  Unfortunately, the owner of the marina passed before an agreement could be made.

Until somewhat recently, the boat was afloat in the marina.  Somehow, the boat made its way up onto the land. By the looks of it, this area floods easily during the winter–it may have moved during a flood and when the water returned to its usual level, it left the boat, grounded.


Since the boat has been grounded, The Captain has nothing to worry about, it seems.  He was more concerned about periodic sinking while it was moored in the river.  So, until he decides on a game plan, the [Old] Spirit of Sacramento will remain in its place, among the grass on the shore of the Sacramento River, where it used to roam.

Please note: This is on private property. Please be respectful. If you choose to find this place, you’ll be amazed. The pictures cannot even begin to give you a sense of how enormous this boat is. It’s a beautiful dream that I hope the Captain can accomplish.


One thought on “The Old Spirit of Sacramento

  1. Enjoyed this, what a beautiful boat. Kudos to the owner for the efforts to preserve. What an unfortunate original name too, ha. And as a researcher, I feel your pain when you mentioned two ships with the same name in the same place. Argh! Good on you for catching that, and pointing out the difference. I’ve actually seen something similar with buildings in the past, someone does not catch the error and then you have future articles citing the original incorrect article, and it just starts snowballing bad information from there. Thanks for setting the record straight!

    Good post Whitney, great research!


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