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The tall ship Pilgrim’s bell tolls one last time in Dana Point Harbor

The Pilgrim’s bell tolled eight last times on Saturday, June 6, in a final ceremony for the beloved ship – for decades an icon of the Dana Point Harbor, but now just salvaged pieces.

In naval tradition, a ship’s bell signals the changing watch; in this case ringing the tall ship’s bronze bell precisely at noon marked the end of the watch for the Pilgram, which sank at its dock next to the Ocean Institute in March.



The Pilgrim – a full-scale replica of the ship immortalized by Richard Henry Dana in his classic novel, “Two Years Before the Mast” – was a favorite during the Ocean Institute’s annual Tall Ships Festival and has served since the 1980s as a living-history classroom for some 400,000 students and visitors.

On Saturday, the ship’s bell – mounted hanging from its original gallows – was presented to the family of Ray Wallace. Wallace is the noted marine architect who converted the Pilgrim from a three-masted schooner known as the Joal.

The boat was originally built in 1945. Wallace converted it into the Pilgrim in 1975 in Lisbon, Portugal.

“It’s just an incredible honor they’d do this for the Wallace and Steel family,” said Jim Wallace, the eldest son of Ray Wallace, who was at the event with several other family members including Bill Steel, Ray Wallace’s brother.

“My dad had this bell cast in the 1970s,” said Wallace, of Cypress. “We’ll be good stewards of it for a while.”

Ocean Institute officials hope to one day attach the bell to a new Pilgrim.

On April 2, five days after the Pilgrim heeled to starboard, efforts to lift it from the harbor floor were suspended by the U.S. Coast Guard. The Orange County Sheriff’s Harbor Patrol first saw the vessel was taking on water in the early morning of March 27.

The ship had been under watch, and all the pumps were in operation. No official determination of what caused the vessel to sink has been released.

Efforts to raise the 75-year-old wooden ship by crane and underwater divers failed.

Other salvaged artifacts, including the Pilgrim’s figurehead – a replica of Richard Henry Dana – and the ship’s wheel, will be auctioned online beginning on June 12 to raise money for the institute and the maintenance its other tall ship, The Spirit of Dana Point.

Wallace recounted how his father sailed the Pilgrim from Lisbon across the Atlantic Ocean and through the Caribbean into Miami, where final touches were added. A new crew took the ship from Miami through the Panama Canal.

The Pilgrim first stopped in San Diego and then sailed into the Port of Los Angeles. For a while, the ship stayed there at Ports O’ Call Village.

The Pilgrim sailed into Dana Point Harbor after Stan Cummings, the founder of the Ocean Institute, had the vision of using the ship give kids an experience on the water, Wallace said.

Since the Pilgrim went into service, fourth- and fifth-graders from throughout Southern California have spent nights onboard as part of a living history program offered every fall. Students learned about early California development and the area’s maritime history.

“We put them into challenging roles where they learned to become leaders,” said Dan Goldbacher, who heads up the institute’s maritime programs. “They became mates on each cruise. Like sailors in the 1830s, everyone had to be on the same page to make the ship work.

“They learned how to rig the ship, prepare meals and row boats into the harbor to get hides.” he said. “It showed them they had to push themselves to accomplish goals.”

Bill Steel Jr., a nephew of Ray Wallace and board member of the Ocean Institute, apologized to the Wallace family that the Pilgrim sank on “our watch.”

“We’re very sorry for that,” he said. “It was an ignominious end to a wonderful life.”

“My uncle was a stickler for details,” he said of Ray Wallace. “It reminded me of that when you rang the bell right at noon. Enjoy this as a temporary gift.”

There has been no resolution to what caused the ship to sink.

“It was almost good that it was destroyed,” Wallace said. “To finger point would have been terrible. This way, there is none of that. It’s just the resolution of the ship. She was 75 years old.”

Veronica McNamara, a 20-year volunteer on the Pilgrim, was there to hear the last bell tolls. She remembered precisely the minute she got the call that the Pilgrim was listing, heading to the harbor from her home in San Clemente immediately.

“I must have cleaned that bell 1 million times,” she said sadly.

Source: Orange County Register

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