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Tall Ship ‘Pilgrim’ Sinks at Dock in Dana Point

The Dana Point-based tall ship Pilgrim, an iconic replica that has served as an education platform for hundreds of thousands of students, sank at her dock on Sunday. The cause is unknown.

“We are very sad to announce that Pilgrim, our beloved vessel that has served as an inspiring real-world classroom to hundreds of thousands of students and visitors, keeled overnight in her slip on our dock, rendering her useful life over,” said Ocean Institute, the nonprofit that operated the Pilgrim. Ocean Institute president Wendy Marshall added that Pilgrim is “incapacitated beyond repair,” according to the Dana Point Times.

The cause of Pilgrim’s sinking is still unknown.
© 2020 NBC Los Angeles

The 98-ft Pilgrim is a “full-sized replica of the merchantman brig immortalized by Richard Henry Dana Jr. in Two Years Before the Mast.”

Several news outlets have reported that the Pilgrim was hauled out and surveyed in 2016. Ocean Institute began a fund to support the haulout and repair scheduled to take place in January 2020. That work was postponed until June due to overload at the yard,” NBC Los Angeles reported.

The original Pilgrim was built in 1825 and sailed from Boston to California in 1834, according to the Dana Point Times. Richard Henry Dana sailed aboard her as a common seaman, and would go on to pen one of the greatest seagoing novels of all time. “This Pilgrim, a replica, was built in 1945 in Denmark for lumber trade. In 1975, the ship sailed to Lisbon where it was converted to its latest rig,” the Times said.

“The replica Pilgrim came to Dana Point Harbor [which, of course, was named after Richard Henry Dana] in September 1981. The Pilgrim provided national award-winning living history programs to the students and helped celebrate maritime history in the annual Tall Ships Festival each September,” the Times added.

The replica Pilgrim would be the stage for Richard Henry Dana’s Two Years Before the Mast.
© 2020 Ocean Institute

“We are sad to bid farewell to this iconic vessel which has been such an important part of Ocean Institute’s programs and to the children that they served,” Wendy Marshall said. “Our staff was informed this morning and we all feel like we lost a dear friend, as I am sure many of you do.”

Did you ever sail on the Pilgrim? Please let us know by commenting below, or writing us here.

According to the Dana Point Times, the Ocean Institute is also welcoming stories, images and other posts from patrons and visitors on how the Pilgrim made an impact on sailors over the years. “You can either post on social media with #brigpilgrim or email [email protected].



  1. Kathi 4 years ago

    So very sad.

  2. Marc Bodian 4 years ago

    It is interesting how quickly she is being written off. If, as was stated at one point, a leak was being mitigated by pumping, why wasn’t there more oversight, alarms etc. on a vessel claimed to be worth 6 million? Why weren’t even just a few more resources brought in and the issue addressed? I feel extremely bad about this and wonder how this unfolded so quickly and why.

    • Aline Barber 4 years ago

      I agree..I believe there has to be a better accounting of events that led to this..and why would they write her off so quickly.? It’s very sad..She deserved better…

    • Gus van Driel 4 years ago

      A six million iconic vessel sinks overnight and the response is oh well, c’est la vie! Sure sounds suspicious! There has to be a whole lot more to this story.

  3. Veronica McNamara 4 years ago

    I was a 20 year crew member and worked each Sat. doing ship’s maintenance. I participated in many of her annual sails, many times as ship’s cook. More fun and good friendship than anywhere else in my lIfe. The stories, experiences, camaraderie and fun unequaled by anything else. The skills among the crew astonishing. Sailed with people from 16 to 80-plus. Standing on one of the uninhabited Channel Islands, looking out to sea and seeing only Pilgrim at anchor was like flying back in time. Standing night watch on deck at islands with no ambient light, the ‘milk’ in the Milky Way was visible while sea lions and other marine life circling the ship were surrounded by a magical green glow of phosphorescence, this while Pilgrim gently swayed and creaked. The crew have a million stories and photos. I was so very privileged to be a part of it all.

  4. Guy Vincent Coulombe 4 years ago

    I was on at the ship in 1990, and got to visit it two years ago. How can they just write off the ship as a loss because it takes money to fix? Where was the maintenance? The main cultural icon of Dana Point has been lost.

  5. art ist 4 years ago

    So the Ocean Institute had a million dollars to build a shark tank but no money to fix the Pilgrim? Something stinks here.

  6. Tim Henry 4 years ago

    Readers — Many of you are taken aback by the news that ‘Pilgrim’ was declared a loss — and, furthermore, that a well-found vessel sank at the dock with no readily available explanation. We agree that the situation is strange, and we hope that an investigation yields satisfactory answers. We hear the concerns that you’re voicing, but we’re asking that commenters refrain from making further accusations that there’s been foul play. We will report on the cause of this accident as soon as there’s more information. — latitude 38

    • Pilgrim Fan 4 years ago

      You want an investigation? Talk to the crew, who sailed her and kept her in good shape. Then ask some pointed questions of the Ocean Institute board of supervisors, who have been pulling money and scaring off volunteers for the past four or five years.

  7. Donald Bryden 4 years ago

    I’ll remember this incident next time an appeal goes out for donations. This incident is inexcusable.

  8. Peter Adams 4 years ago

    I agree with the comment; that said, it seems a bit soon to declare this a total write-off. The list of boats given up for dead and then resurrected and made better than new is not a short one. Something just doesn’t add up here.

  9. Rodney Bender 4 years ago

    Unfortunate, but not necessarily fatal. This creation of this ship was a monumental task. I haven’t seen it, but seems it can and should be salvaged and restored to working order.

  10. Ken Jackson 4 years ago

    It can’t be that much of a challenge to locate a leak in the hull. They’re almost cavalier in bidding this piece of history farewell. Strange.

    • Pilgrim Fan 4 years ago

      Right. You take her to drydock every couple of years. This wasn’t done.

    • Steve 1 year ago

      One would posit, that for a 70 (+) year old ship, there was likely more wrong with the hull than a ‘leak’, and the Coast Guard determination that it was too risky to attempt salvage would have been based on an engineering analysis of the data they had on structural stability. Once one adds up the cost of refloating, plus rebuilding, one can be confident it was the financial people who made the final decision. ?

  11. Liz 4 years ago

    Hi folks from latitude 38,

    It definitely sounds odd for a ship to sink that quickly. I’m from another country, and was just ‘fortunate’ enough to pick the right time to delve more into Pilgrim, and saw the news articles – huge shame! I had hopes that one day I might get to see Pilgrim in person.

    If you hear anything on the investigation, could you please either put the info here or a link to where we can read the info? I’m sure I’m not the only one who wants to keep track of what’s going on, and you’re more likely to hear than me – way overseas!

    Thanks, folks.

  12. Vincent Neale 3 years ago

    As we approach the anniversary of this tragic incident I am left wondering why the Pilgrim was written off so quickly. As far as I am aware (I live ten minutes from Dan Point Harbour) nobody has been held responsible for the poor maintenance or for the slow response or for the decision not to try to salvage such a local icon. All of my five my kids had overnight experiences with their schools on the ship and I just cannot believe it went so quickly. Has anybody heard any no news about the ship?

  13. James S Rounsaville 3 years ago

    I visited my old ship, just a couple of years ago. What I discovered was very troubling. I was one of the original crew, just following her original conversion. There was already evidence of a bad case of ‘hogging’ back then. Having the balance changed (from 3-mast schooner to 2-mast square-rig) was probably not healthy for her. But that enormous 3 cylinder diesel, sitting just below the Captain’s quarters was a defining factor. I was told, on my recent visit, that she had hogged over 18″! Far beyond what a re-shoeing could assist. She also had a watertight bulkhead installed in the forecastle, because of issues that the Shipwright had discovered. Without investing a TON of money, she was doomed. That massive iron bulkhead, combined with the engine, was basically snapping her in two. I expect some major timbers had separated, resulting in her flooding. To effect the repairs that she truly needed, on a vessel that cost money. Our original Captain has passed on, and he was the instrumental person for creating this vessel. He bought her in Denmark (I think) and sailed her to Southern California. He paid for the retrofit. His passing, I feel, opened it up for there to be less assistance to the dying girl. She used to be under the Orange County Marine Institute. There was no shortage of funds to create an enormous facility, that only a small portion is used for public education.

  14. Steve 6 months ago

    I was a Docent on the Pilgrim for years. OI’s BOD knew exactly how bad the situation was.

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