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Schooner Gracefully Plies Waters Off New Home Port in Chula Vista

December 01, 1987|BILLIE SUTHERLAND | Times Staff Writer

The 145-foot schooner Californian is nostalgia with sails, an embodiment of the state's romance with the sea.

San Diego area residents will have a better chance to view the Californian's beauty because the vessel's southern home port is now Chula Vista and the tall ship will regularly be sailing San Diego waters.

The Californian operates out of the Chula Vista Marina from September through the second week of May. The ship also has a home port in Sausalito and one in Oxnard and spends 20 days in each home port. The rest of the time is spent at sea or visiting one of 28 ports of call in the state.

Ship's Arrival

Chula Vista culminated its yearlong 75th Jubilee celebration Oct. 17 with the arrival of the official state vessel at the marina at the foot of J Street. It is a "historic re-creation" of the 1848 revenue cutter C.W. Lawrence that ran aground in San Francisco Bay in 1851.

It was built in 1983-84 at Spanish Landing with private donations totaling $1.4 million.

"We built the ship because we wanted to reacquaint the citizens with our priceless maritime heritage," said Rusty White, director of operations for the nonprofit Nautical Heritage Society in Dana Point. "We also wanted to create an awareness of our marine environment."

White said "an incredible amount of research" went into replicating the schooner, which was originally used to collect tariffs from cargo ships. Every detail of the ship, from the bow's carved figurehead to the stern's 1848 American flag snapping in the breeze, was included to make the ship as authentic as possible.

"Modern technology was blended with authenticity," White said. "Like we put in watertight bulkheads to compartmentalize the ship. So if it were to sink, it wouldn't sink all at once."

The gears for a windlass, which hoist a 700-pound anchor from the deep, were made at Lunenburg Foundry Ltd. in Nova Scotia from a rare mid-19th-Century mold.

The two masts, unlike those in most of today's sailing vessels, are made from wood, the trunks of two Douglas fir trees turned on a massive pole lathe.

The genius of modern technology helps smooth sailing. The Californian has an auxiliary engine and navigational equipment such as radar, single-side band and VHF radios. To meet modern safety requirements, it has life rafts kept in an air-tight canister and fire safety equipment.

In addition to the beauty of 7,000 square feet of unfurled canvas at full sail, the gray-and-white vessel offers crew members and passengers an opportunity to get away from the demands of daily life and learn some things in the process, White said.

"At sea, you have to strike a bargain with nature, have a balance in achieving your goals," White said.

Since wind and weather do not operate according to people's convenience, mariners must temper their actions with natural conditions, White said.

This "builds character" and a respect for nature, he said.

Those 16 to 21 years old can get a little of this "character building" when they enroll in the Nautical Heritage Society's cadet program. The $700, 11-day program is offered 13 times a year and provides hands-on experience as cadets perform the crew duties. The program also stresses maritime history and environmental awareness. Scholarships are available from the society.

"We went about 25 miles out. At night, it's pretty incredible." said cadet Brandon Cole, a Morro Bay area college student. "I like the serenity, the challenge of getting out on the water. You don't really worry about time.

"But there's a lot of work: hauling sails, folding sails, scrubbing decks, polishing brass and helping out with galley work."

John (Sugar) Flanagan, 28, is the Californian's captain. The portly, ruddy-face Flanagan looks curiously like Neptune with his mass of sea-bleached curls and full beard. And he definitely looks like a captain befitting an antique sailing vessel.

"I enjoy sailing old-style vessels. What's really enjoyable is to be able to share that experience with others," Flanagan said. "I prefer a wandering life style, where you can't put down roots."

The captain said the adventure of traveling is appealing because "you don't have to go out and get an apartment, buy a car, get a loan to buy a car, get a phone and pay for the loan on the car."

In other words, he said he prefers a simpler pace.

Leslie McNish has been a sailor for 10 years and is the second mate aboard the Californian. She also serves as an educational instructor.

"Living here is like going camping," she said. "You have to work a little harder to entertain yourself."

Curious creatures swim near the ship out at sea, McNish said. Dolphins, elephant seals, migrating birds and sea lions are commonly seen.

The Californian also offers "High Sea Adventures," a three-day mid-week charter for adults. For $475, a person can learn a little about seamanship, California marine life and get a taste of old-time sailing.

On weekends, four-hour jaunts around the bay are offered to the public for $55. The ship boards at 11:30 a.m. and returns about 4 p.m. Tickets can be purchased through the Nautical Heritage Society 24532 Del Prado, Dana Point, Calif. 92629 or by calling (714) 661-1001.

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