Some experiences are so uncommon and purely exhilarating, you wonder if at that moment there is anything happening on earth to match it. We had been invited aboard San Diego’s iconic 160-year-old sailing ship the Star of India, fully crewed on this bright November afternoon and every bit as glorious and poised at sea as when she was launched five days before Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address in 1863.

Maritime Museum volunteers train all year for this. Some of the bravest scramble up the masts to unfurl the sails which quickly catch the ocean breeze. Every deckhand is part of a precise and marvelous choreography.

Beyond Point Loma, we can take best advantage of the wind, and a lovely quiet settles over the ship. It truly feels like the Star of India is back in her element. A small bell is rung, summoning passengers and crew to a brief memorial ceremony for Museum members who have recently passed. Their names are called and single roses are tossed into the sea.

Now the world’s oldest active sailing ship, the Star of India can boast a remarkable history. Operating under the name Euterpe, after the Greek muse of poetry and music, her first voyages were less than stellar. She endured a collision, a fierce hurricane, illness among the passengers and crew, and a mutiny aboard. Then the captain died and was buried at sea. For decades, Euterpe earned her way hauling cargo from England to India, emigrants to New Zealand and, under her new name, salmon from Alaska to California. In all, she circled the world 21 times and remains the oldest iron-hulled merchant ship afloat.

On board today, the sails flap briefly, and in response to a shouted command, the all-volunteer crew instantly grabs ropes to tighten them. They know exactly what they are doing, and it seems wise to stay out of the way. A band plays old songs of the sea, and a few guests begin to clap and dance. The ocean, the sounds, the history of it all, combine to create a setting that is simply incomparable.

In late afternoon, The Star of India turns back toward the embarcadero. Charter boats and private yachts form a kind of honor guard alongside, tourists and sightseers aboard them strain to snap the perfect photo at the golden hour before sunset. It has been a truly magnificent day!

As seen through the lens of videographers Suzanne Bartole and Zach Camerino, it will be a joy to share our Star of India experience with you as part of an upcoming episode of Ken Kramer’s About San Diego, Thursday evening, May 9 at 8:00 on KPBS-TV, repeating Sunday May 12 at 4:00.


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Esteban Villanueva