Ocean Institute auctions off memorabilia from ‘Pilgrim’

Memorabilia included the ship’s wheel and iconic figurehead of Richard Henry Dana from the bow of the tall ship.

DANA POINT—Pilgrim was an icon in Dana Point Harbor for decades, serving as the Ocean Institute’s largest classroom. A full-sized replica of the merchantman brig immortalized by Richard Henry Dana, Jr. in his American seafaring classic novel “Two Years Before the Mast”, Pilgrim brought history to life for thousands of Southern California students each year.

She first entered Dana Point Harbor in 1981 and many have shared fond memories of the schooner, being welcomed aboard by the figurehead of Richard Henry Dana on the bow, standing at the helm, taking creaking steps down below deck and spending the night aboard the ship.

Despite efforts to save the tall ship, Pilgrim was demolished after keeling over in her slip on March 29. Salvage crews were unable to lift the vessel out of the water and demolition was deemed the only safe option. Pilgrim had been due for renovations in January, but the boatyard was overbooked and the haul-out was re-scheduled for some time in June.

Many of the iconic items, including the figurehead, wheel and salvaged ship parts were part of a week-long auction June 12-20.

“Every piece is definitely a little unique and special, kinda just like the ship,” Ocean Institute Maritime and Campus Facilities Director Dan Goldbacher said.

Goldbacher said about 50 items were up for auction, plus some pieces crafted from the wood and other materials they were able to salvage from the ship.

“We had a local furniture maker make a coffee table out of one of the grate covers and that actually sold within the first 10 minutes of the auction,” Goldbacher said.

The table was made completely from parts of the ship; the tabletop was from the hatch covers, legs from support beams, and accents from the ship’s flag halyards.

Other pieces crafted from the ship’s parts included line rope mats made from the five miles of running rigging on the Pilgrim and plaques made from the recovered flag halyard, nails and wood from the hull.

“Every piece has a little bit of character,” Goldbacher said. “You can see where some of the bolts and fasteners may have gone through the hull.”

Artifacts from the ship up for auction included the anchor light, cannon and many ship parts including belay pins; binnacle compass; hatch covers; staircases; the port, starboard and stern nameplates; wheel pulleys and more.

The two highest value items were the ship’s wheel, which started at a bid price of $300,000 and the figurehead which started at a base price of $750,000. Ocean Institute did not confirm before this paper went to press if those items sold.

Some winning bids were included on the auction website, including the cannon on board, which sold for $150,000 and the starboard nameplate, which sold for $70,000.

Goldbacher said items that did not sell at the auction, will remain at Ocean Institute and some may be available in the gift store.

He said they are also working on a Pilgrim memorial, which is being built from parts of the ship they were able to recover.

“We also took three large sections of the ribs and reassembled them and what we’re going to do is set them up as an art display in memory of the Pilgrim,” Goldbacher said. “You get the opportunity to see the internal organs of one of these amazing wooden ships while still creating a memorial for the Pilgrim and keeping those memories alive.”

Goldbacher said funds raised from the auction will go towards Ocean Institute’s other tall ship, the Spirit of Dana Point and sustaining operations at Ocean Institute. He said Spirit of Dana Point needs a new deck, which is almost a $1 million project. He said they are hoping to raise enough to cover the costs of the deck project.

He also said they will continue to offer the educational opportunities once held on Pilgrim on the Spirit of Dana Point. Ocean Institute offered overnight and daytime living history and leadership-based programs for students, mostly fourth and fifth grade students, aboard Pilgrim. Goldbacher said they had about 400,000 students step aboard Pilgrim since 1981.

“We’re lucky enough to have another tall ship here at the Ocean Institute, so being able to keep that boat going,” Goldbacher said.

He said getting another ship is not out of the realm of possibility for the future but not a focus right now.

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