SAN DIEGO — On Nov. 11-12, the Maritime Museum of San Diego will sail the world’s oldest active sailing ship, Star of India, a historic vessel.
The Star of India was built 160 years ago, in 1863, on the Isle of Man and originally named Euterpe, after the Greek goddess of music and poetry. She has circumnavigated the globe 21 times. Iron ships were experiments then, with most vessels still being built of wood. Within five months of laying her keel, the ship was launched.
Over the years, the vessel has served various purposes, including transporting emigrants to New Zealand, carrying cargo and even being used as a salmon fishing and processing ship in Alaska.
In 1871 she was purchased by the Shaw Savill line of London and embarked on a quarter century of hauling emigrants to New Zealand, sometimes also touching down in Australia, the U.S. West Coast and Chile. Some of these voyages lasted up to a year in harsh conditions, with the little iron ship fighting through extreme storms, “laboring and rolling in a most distressing manner,” according to her log.
Life aboard was tough on those cramped inside her ‘tween deck, fed a diet of hardtack and salt junk, subject to mal-de-mer and other ills. Astonishingly, their death rate was low. They were a tough group, nevertheless, drawn from the working classes of England, Ireland and Scotland, and most went on to prosper in New Zealand.
According to the Maritime Museum of San Diego, Euterpe, a full-rigged ship, would remain so until 1901 when the Alaska Packers Association rigged her down to a barque, her present rig. She began her sailing life with two near-disastrous voyages to India. On her first trip, she suffered a collision and a mutiny. On her second, a cyclone caught Euterpe in the Bay of Bengal, and with her topmasts cut away, she barely made port. Shortly afterward, her first captain died on board and was buried at sea.
After such a hard luck beginning, Euterpe settled down and made four more voyages to India as a cargo ship.
In 1926, the Euterpe was retired, and in 1927, it was acquired by the Zoological Society of San Diego (now the San Diego Zoo) to be part of a new marine exhibit. It was restored and renamed the Star of India in honor of the annual San Diego Day of the Star, which celebrated the city’s maritime history.
Today, the Star of India is part of the Maritime Museum and is moored at the San Diego waterfront. It is open to the public as a museum, allowing visitors to explore its history and the world of 19th-century sailing vessels. The ship also occasionally sets sail and participates in special events and educational programs.
The vessel has been seasoned with a newly trained sail crew ready for the experience, which was delayed due to the pandemic. It’s been five years since Star of India last sailed on Nov. 17 and 18, 2018. Plans call for a San Diego Bay and at-sea parade of the museum fleet, including historic visiting vessels to surround Star. In some cases, there will be opportunities for the public to purchase tickets and share the water for this monumental occasion.
“Star of India is an icon in San Diego, and this birthday celebration is a day to honor all supporters, including volunteers, members, donors, staff, educators, students, partners, and the out-of-town visitors and locals that support our mission with attendance and participation in the museum experience,” Raymond Ashley, the president and CEO of the Maritime Museum said in a news release.
Included in the 160-year birthday celebration for Star of India will be the appearance of the newly restored figurehead Euterpe.
It was unveiled last year and led by long-time Maritime Museum volunteer George Sutherland, while surrounded by sailing, maritime history enthusiasts and visitors gathered at the Maritime Museum for the vessel’s 159th birthday celebration. The single, solid piece of pine was originally carved by another George Sutherland, a shipyard worker in one of the Glasgow, Scotland boat yards in the 1860s. It’s a coincidence that a man named George Sutherland was tasked with the restoration project, according to the Maritime Museum.
San Diegans and visitors will have the chance to see Star of India leave the Maritime Museum at 9 a.m. Nov. 11 and 12 and move through San Diego Bay until reaching a position two to three miles west of Point Loma.
A limited number of tickets are available for the Star of India 160-year Birthday Celebration Sail experience, allowing guests to accompany the ship and sail aboard three tall ships. Two of the participating vessels are the Californian, the official tall ship of the state, and San Salvador, the 1542 Spanish galleon replica built in San Diego by staff and volunteers. A third visiting vessel, the 136-foot gaff-rigged schooner Bill of Rights, will also take on passengers for this special occasion.
While at sea, Star of India will perform maneuvers, and when possible, Californian and San Salvador will sail close by. At 3 p.m., Star of India, Californian and San Salvador will assemble at the entrance to the bay. Star of India will secure her berth at the Maritime Museum at 5 p.m. with good viewing opportunities along Harbor and Shelter islands and the San Diego waterfront.
Tickets include a day sail charter with lunch, snacks and water or soft drinks provided. A no-host cash-only bar will also be on board for guests 21 and over. All guests must be checked-in by 9:30 a.m. at the Maritime Museum, along the north embarcadero at 1492 N. Harbor Drive, between Grape and Ash Street. Tickets are $269 per person for the public, while museum member tickets are $249 per person. Pricing applies to all ages.
For more information, please visit https://shorturl.at/dfOX6.