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Termites Are Sent Walking the Planks of O.C. Tall Ships

Operators of floating classrooms the Pilgrim and the Spirit of Dana Point hope fumigation with solve a long-term pest problem.

August 27, 2004|Erin Ailworth | Times Staff Writer

The exterminators had never treated a tall ship before. But after years of spot-treating a termite infestation on the Pilgrim, staffers at the Ocean Institute were ready to try anything to rid the wooden vessel of the insects.

The ship, a seafaring replica of the brig that writer Richard Henry Dana -- for whom Dana Point was named -- helped sail along the California coast in the 1830s, was wrapped this week in a fumigation tarp that left only its masts visible.

The original Pilgrim was built in 1825 for $50,000 and outfitted to make the journey from Boston to California. On Dana's 1834-35 voyage -- chronicled in his narrative "Two Years Before the Mast" -- the ship carried shoes, foodstuffs and ironware to trade for cattle hides.

In 1856, the Pilgrim was lost in a fire at sea.

The replica came to Dana Point from Portugal in 1981 after being redesigned from a schooner into a brig, a two-masted ship with square sails.

As the man said to be in charge of keeping the Pilgrim running, boatswain Jeff Rosaler wasn't too concerned about the termites, though he acknowledged that the Ocean Institute has been fighting them off and on for years.

"A wooden boat has so many problems and so many other issues that termites are just another one ... on the checklist," Rosaler said.

Termites are being crossed off that list.

All but the ship's masts were shrouded in red-and-blue Cirque du Soleil-style tarps held together by silver clips.

"The circus has come to town," said one local, known around the docks as Col. Bill. The man squinted at the ship, sizing it up for a moment.

He added: " 'Cept, I hope there's no clowns inside ... it's a termite circus."

The Pilgrim and its sister ship, the Spirit of Dana Point, were fitted with tarps Wednesday morning to prepare for fumigation, normally a $30,000 process, said Adam Himel- son, the Maritime Senior Program Director at the Ocean Institute, which operates the ships as floating classrooms.

The institute's staff hopes the fumigation slows the ships' termite problems. The services were donated at cost and covered by an anonymous donor.

The ships are supposed to appear in a tall ship festival in about two weeks. So on Wednesday, the wrapping got underway, followed by a tear gas bomb to flush out critters that might be harmed by the fumigation. Then came the poison.

Today, the ships will be unwrapped, ventilated and tested for lingering traces of the chemicals.

On Saturday, volunteer crew members -- and anyone else who wants to drop by, said Himelson -- are scheduled to spruce up both ships with new haul lines and some general cleaning.

Himelson was optimistic about the spraying, but said that because the ships had so many nooks and crannies, they will never be completely rid of termites.

But, he said with a smile, "we'll be ahead of the termites with a guarantee from the [extermination] company."

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