Since September of 1981, an iconic ship nestled in Dana Point Harbor has transported kids to the 1800s to learn about what it was like to live on the rough seas. Dana Point’s Pilgrim was more than just a tall ship; she was a floating classroom used to educate more than 400,000 students for almost 40 years, memories that would have never existed without one man’s vision.
In the 1970s, Ray Wallace, a world-renowned shipwright and captain, was commissioned by an organization in Salinas, CA to transform an old ship into a reproduction of the original Pilgrim from 1825. You may recall, that vessel was depicted in Richard Henry Dana’s 1840 memoir, “Two Years Before the Mast.” Dana wrote about his adventures sailing along the California shoreline, and called the San Juan Bay — now Dana Point — “The only romantic spot on the coast.”
With support from investors, Wallace and his team traveled to Denmark to find the perfect three-masted brig to recreate the historic tall ship. They sailed to Portugal and began work remastering the vessel, but this is where the tide turned. Wallace received a call from investors and learned they had run out of money. The Pilgrim was now up for sale.
That’s when Sam Cummings, former CEO of the Orange County Marine Institute (Ocean Institute) reached out to Wallace about his idea to create an immersive educational experience for students based on Dana’s “Two Years Before the Mast.” Wallace loved the idea and sailed the ship to Dana Point Harbor.
Had it not been for Wallace’s craftsmanship and vision, Dana Point’s Pilgrim would have never come to fruition. That’s why the Wallace family will be honored with the ship’s iconic bell on June 6th, 2020. After the Pilgrim was damaged beyond repair earlier this year, the Ocean Institute decided it was important to give the ship’s essence to the family of the man that started it all. “The bell is a representation of the ship itself,” said Maritime Director Dan Goldbacher. “When you ring it, hear it and see it, it is the Pilgrim.”
A group of volunteers and staff from the Ocean Institute are also working on a memorial for the ship. It will be made from the ribs of the Pilgrim, allowing guests to see the internal structure of the brig and reminisce on the past four decades. It’s scheduled to be completed in September. The non-profit organization is holding an online Pilgrim Auction as well. This starts on June 12th at 6 pm and will be an opportunity for the community to purchase a piece of history while supporting future Maritime Programs. Some items include Pilgrim nameplates, Pilgrim fastener plaques made from the hull, and boarding ladders.
Learn more about the Pilgrim Auction here.