Monday, August 27, 2007

Pilgrim sails into harbor


When Santa Barbara residents stepped aboard the Pilgrim this past weekend, they stepped back in time to an age of hardtack and salt beef, deck swabbing and high seas.
A 130-foot snow brig designed as a replica of the original 1825 schooner, the Pilgrim entered the Santa Barbara Harbor on Friday evening and left this morning for the Channel Islands. While in port, the ship opened its deck to visitors, giving them a firsthand glimpse into the living and working conditions of a 19th century sailor.

“It gives us a chance to pass on a message to the public that people don’t get to experience anywhere else,” deckhand Jen Condit said.
Kids and adults alike clambered on board to ring the bell, spin the wooden wheel and stare in awe at the maze of rigging lines that stretched to the top of the 98-foot mainmast.
“There is reason to it,” chief mate Bob Ross said of the tangle of lines. Ross has been working on the Pilgrim for 18 years, and knows every inch of the 147 lines that hold the ship’s 14 sails in place.
“This is a labor of love,” Ross said. “This has been all of my vacation time for the past 18 years.”
From the original 1945 diesel engine to the “Windless,” a 750-pound anchor that has to be hand-cranked by a four-member team, often leaving them short of breath, the Pilgrim is under the command of Captain Jim Wehan and belongs to the Ocean Institute in Dana Point, Calif.
In the midst of a two-week trip up the coast, the Pilgrim will wind its way back down through the Channel Islands to its home port, where it is used throughout the year as a learning tool for visiting school children.
About 18,000 kids visit the ship yearly, sometimes staying overnight with volunteers and staff who dress up in period-appropriate costumes. Condit said she usually plays the cook and doctor.
“I’m usually the goofy character,” Condit said. “It gives them a chance to learn not only about sailing ... but they also get to experience a piece of history.”
While today’s version of the Pilgrim dates back to 1945, when it served as a working merchant ship out of Denmark, the original Pilgrim sailed the oceans during the 19th century.
Built in 1825, the Pilgrim plied American waters, bringing England’s manufactured goods such as shoes and ironware to the California coast, where it picked up cattle hides and returned to its port in Boston.
Condit described how Richard Henry Dana, Jr., joined the crew of the original Pilgrim in 1834 against his father’s wishes, using his experiences as the basis of his seafaring classic “Two Years Before the Mast.” Dana went on to become a lawyer, developing much of the legal protections for sailors that evolved into today’s maritime law.
Although details are sketchy, the original Pilgrim is believed to have been lost in a fire at sea in 1856.
Ross said today’s Pilgrim crew tries to follow many of the same rites that the 19th century sailors did, from using the signaling cannon when raising the morning colors to hoisting the Blue Peter, a blue flag with a white square in the center that signals to the crew that the schooner will be leaving port soon.
“We try to keep a lot of the maritime traditions preserved,” Ross said.
While others focus on the historic elements of the brig, 72-year-old Charlie Bell, the Pilgrim’s boatswain, makes sure the ship is in working order. After a lifetime in a Naval shipyard, caulking decks on aircraft carriers and other vessels, Bell keeps an eye on the Pilgrim’s moving parts.
Two years ago, Bell said, the topsail blew out in 30-knot winds. After pulling it down, Bell and his crew stitched it up and reattached its rigging, repairing the torn cloth just as the original crew would have done in the 1800s.
Bell said the Pilgrim has reached speeds of 10 knots during his decade on board, and others have told him they’ve seen it go up to 12 knots.
“Anything above seven or eight knots is a real thrill,” Bell said.
Although the Pilgrim sailed out of Santa Barbara waters this morning, the crew hopes to be back next year to continue passing on the traditions of tall ships.
“We want to come back,” Ross said. “The crew and I definitely love Santa Barbara as a port of call.”


yrpal said...

good article. graf 13 change (1934) to 1834.

Santa Barbara Daily Sound said...

Thank you. The error has been corrected.