Star of India
1492 N Harbor Dr.
San Diego, CA 92101
Phone: (619) 234-9153
Dog-Friendly: No Kid-Friendly: Yes
HOURS: 9am-9pm daily
Admission: For the (current) price of $15 you get to explore 11 historic ships and for an additional small fee (currently $3) you can also take a guided 45-minute boat tour of the bay area. It was definitely worth the price!
Star of India is the world’s oldest active sailing ship. She began her life on the stocks at Ramsey Shipyard in the Isle of Man in 1863. Iron ships were experiments of sorts then, with most vessels still being built of wood. Within five months of laying her keel, the ship was launched into her element. She bore the name Euterpe, after the Greek muse of music and poetry.
Euterpe was a full-rigged ship and 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 trip, 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 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 Australia, California and Chile. She made 21 circumnavigations in this service, some of them lasting up to a year. It was rugged voyaging, with the little iron ship battling through terrific gales, “laboring and rolling in a most distressing manner,” according to her log.
The life aboard was especially hard on the emigrants cooped up in her ‘tween deck, fed a diet of hardtack and salt junk, subject to mal-de-mer and a host of other ills. It is astonishing that their death rate was so low. They were a tough lot, however, drawn from the working classes of England, Ireland and Scotland, and most went on to prosper in New Zealand.
Ghosts of several unfortunate sailors and passengers still haunt the decks and cabins. In 1884 a young stowaway still in his teens by the name of John Campbell was discovered and put to work. One day soon after, Campbell lost his footing high in the rigging and fell 100 feet to the deck, crushing both legs. He survived three more days before he died and was buried at sea. Visitors sometimes report feeling a cold hand touching them when near the mast where Campbell fell.
Sometimes the smell of fresh-baked bread seems to come from the ship’s galley, though the stove has been cold for many years. Even when the ship sits still in the water, pots and pans above the stove have been seen to move.
A cold spot is often felt near the chain locker located toward the bow of the ship. The heavy anchor chain goes below the deck into a dark storage area. A Chinese crewman was in the locker at one time when he shouldn’t have been. Preparing to start a sea voyage requires several sailors pushing on wooden bars set into a capstan to raise the anchor and stow the anchor chain. No one knew their crewmate was in the chain locker below.
The noisy machinery brought up the anchor and fed the iron chain into the compartment below. Not hearing the the screams of the trapped victim, the crew continued to haul in the anchor while the chain slowly crushed the hapless man. The crew’s quarters were often the scene of deaths. Crewman taken below after horrible accidents or stricken by illness spent their last days here. In these tight spaces you can feel the cold and sense the fear that still haunts the ship.
Not all of the places on the ship are as dreary. The captain’s quarters are warm and will outfitted. When you visit the Star of India you see many of the maps and navigation instruments that were used at the time. A museum of old sailing ship artifacts includes a display of treasure coins. It is not known if any violence occurred aboard the ship as a result of disputes of ownership of any such treasure, but is is interesting to think of who may have once owned some of it. Pirates perhaps?
The dining salon also served as the only place high-paying passengers could keep out of the wind and rain aboard the ship while they were not in their tiny cabins. A glass and brass skylight above the dining table helps bring light below to an otherwise dark and windowless compartment. When sailing in the tropics, this also provided much needed fresh air.