The amazing history of the world's oldest active sailing ship
by Des Ryan on 16 Jan 2011
If you believe the Guinness Book of Records, the full-rigged iron windjammer Star of India is the oldest active sailing ship in the world. She was built in 1863, making her an amazing 148 years old, and still sailing! Her home these days is the San Diego Maritime Museum in California, USA, but that's not to imply that she's moribund.
Star of India docks at San Diego .. .
This beautiful creation of ancient naval architecture meets U.S. Coast Guard requirements, undergoes routine maintenance, and is fully seaworthy ('Seaworthy' means being fit for a voyage, trusted to transport cargos safely, and operating effectively even in high seas.) She is probably the only ship still active that saw service in both World Wars. Manned by a volunteer crew of veteran sailors, the ship maintains also regular sailing schedules.
And what a history! She's housed in the USA these days, but she was born (sorry built) in Ramsey in the Isle of Man to operate as a windjammer.
Named Euterpe, the muse of music, she was a full-rigged ship (a ship that has 3 masts and squaresails on all 3 masts), but she had a colourful beginning.
In her very first trip after launching, she sailed for Calcutta, and was still on the coast of Wales when she had a collision with an unlit Spanish brig, which destroyed the boom on her jib and damaged the rigging.
After the collision, the crew mutinied, refusing to continue, and the ship returned to port. Seventeen members of her crew were jailed for their mutiny with hard labour.
The very next year more bad luck befell her, when her crew was forced to cut away her masts in a gale in the Bay of Bengal off the east coast of India, and limped into port for repair. On her return voyage to Europe, her Captain died and was buried at sea.
Maybe the owners thought she was a jinxed ship, because after these two terrible voyages, they sold her and she went on to make largely uneventful voyages to and from India for her new owners.
Replaced for the cargo trade by steamships, in 1871 she began twenty-five years of carrying passengers and some freight in the New Zealand emigrant trade, each voyage going eastward around the world before returning to England.
The fastest of her 21 passages to New Zealand took 100 days, the longest 143 days. She also made ports of call in Australia, California, and Chile. A baby was born on one of those trips en route to New Zealand, and was given the middle name Euterpe.
Finally, after 21 circumnavigations with passengers, at the end of the century she was sold again, renamed Star of India, re-rigged as a barque and became a passenger/cargo ship again, carrying such ordinary cargoes as timber, salmon, sugar and coal across and around the Pacific, making 22 voyages to Alaska.
So after an amazingly varied career career sailing the world, she retired in 1926, and was sold to San Diego authorities.
She lay dormant for a few years, but in 1962 the process of her restoration began, and in 1976 she finally put to sea again. While she is kept in excellent seaworthy condition, being an old lady, she sails at least once a year. For the rest of the time she is part of a Living History Program in which students are immersed in the history of sail.
Her skilled volunteer crew of Maritime Museum members train all year in order to keep sailing her.
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