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The Spirit of Dana Point, a Baltimore Clipper Schooner, was our home for a week-long Elderhostel along the coast of Southern California. Built for racing near the end of the Twentieth Century, it was based on plans found in the Smithsonian Institute for privateer ships in 1776. The United States had no navy then, but it authorized private ships to become buccaneers and capture foreign ships on the high seas.


Imagine that you are back in the early 19th Century plying the coastal waters of California, perhaps gathering hides as described by Richard Henry Dana in Two Years Before the Mast. There are other tall sailing ships along the coast, but you may go for days without seeing them. It is a long way between settlements and when you do go ashore there are few people or buildings. You hope for good weather and hearty wind, but the reality is that you may have clouds or fog and little wind. You learn to roll with the ship and it feels strange when you return to land. The bunks are narrow and amenities are minimal, but the camaraderie makes up for any shortcomings. Many hands are needed for the work of the ship and there is much to learn.


A tall ship under sail is a glorious sight. The Irving B. Johnson, a brigantine owned by the Los Angeles Maritime Institute and used for education of youth groups, was one of the ships we saw at Catalina Island. It and the identical Exy Johnson were built in 2003. They carry more sail than the Spirit of Dana Point, but the square-rigged sails are furled in this picture.


With two masts on our schooner, we all hauled on the halyards to raise the sails. There were twenty Elderhostelers and eight crew members.


Heave Ho! Raise that sail to the top of the peak!


The sails filled with wind and we were sailing!


Jim took a turn at the helm.


Arch Rock, 40 feet high, marks the east end of Anacapa Island, a Channel Island lying offshore from Ventura. Note the lighthouse on the high bluff. These were dangerous waters for the early sailors. Modern navigation equipment has lessened the number of shipwrecks.


Our first anchorage was at Smugglers Cove on Santa Cruz Island, the largest of the five islands which comprise the Channel Islands National Park. There has been an extensive effort to remove the feral pigs brought in by whalers and to increase the population of the tiny endemic Channel Island fox.


Many small craft were anchored near the headland of Smugglers Cove. Seventy-six per cent of the island is owned by the Nature Conservancy and twenty-four per cent by the National Park Service. Groups have to pay $500 if they want to land. We stayed on the ship and enjoyed a delicious turkey meatloaf, beans and a bean and corn medley prepared by Jeffrey, our cook, and served on deck buffet style. We filled our plates and sat wherever we could find a place. We then washed our dishes in a bucket, rinsed them in another and let them airdry.


Although the idea of sailing was exciting, it was quiet and gentle as we crossed the channel from Santa Cruz Island to Santa Barbara and then back to Santa Cruz Island. Many Elderhostelers read or slept, while some of us plied the crew with questions.


Jim and our friends, Dorothy and Glenn, watched John, a member of the crew, steer the boat. (The Captain said the Spirit of Dana Point is a boat, not a ship. We learned that "a ship can hold a boat, but a boat can't hold a ship." Darlene is still puzzling on that statement.)


Jim used a meter to help Chris, the First Mate, repair some of the navigation equipment.


Brown, another crewmember, guided Elderhostelers along the bowsprit to the Widow's Nest. Even though some of the crew were women, they went by mannish names because they were enacting the role of oldtime sailors.


Cap'n Craig and crewmember Carl (Carla) found time to relax at Coches Prietos Anchorage on Santa Cruz Island.


The Islands appeared barren, but we discovered textures in the cliffs and drama at the edge of the ocean. This is the headland at Coches Prietos Anchorage.


Jeffrey, our cook, created wondrous meals in his galley.


It wasn't all work for the crew. Ashley jumped in for a swim.


Jeff, a crewmember who is working on a Master's Degree in biology, led us on a wildlife walk at Two Harbors on Catalina Island. Behind him, Catalina Harbor faces Japan across the open sea. He has seen surprising debris from far away washed up on the beach. He showed us feather boa kelp, a sea squirt and a small octopus.


We hiked a cliffside trail and looked down at the Spirit of Dana Point at anchor at Two Harbors, Catalina. The boat's history is interesting. One man took thirteen years to build it on his home property. It is 118 feet long (including the bowsprit) and the main mast is 55 feet tall. The mast is constructed of heart wood from a single Douglas fir, but such a tall fir would probably be hard to find now. The deck is also Douglas fir. The owner didn't keep the boat long after he completed it. Two brothers bought it, and they allowed it to deteriorate. The Spirit has been owned by the Ocean Institute in Dana Point for four years and is used primarily to educate schoolchildren about early nautical life. The Ocean Institute has overhauled the galley and installed bunks to accommodate 37 children. The new sails cost $40,000. Additional restoration work is planned.


Darlene and Jim found time to pose at Catalina.


We met Dorothy and Glenn Marsh on the Zodiac Elderhostel in 1993. We decided it would be fun to take another sailing trip together. It was.


Our flag flapped cheerfully on the way back to San Pedro.


Although our trip was much shorter than two years and our living conditions were less extreme, we felt we had truly experienced the spirit of living before the mast.


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