Star of India, built in 1863, has circumnavigated the globe 21 times, but last weekend, it set sail for the first time in five years.
Last Saturday and Sunday, with cooperating winds, San Diegans and visitors gathered on the shorelines of Shelter and Harbor islands to watch Star of India move through San Diego Bay until reaching a position two to three miles west of Point Loma. At that juncture, Star of India proceeded under sail and performed maneuvers.
To add to the onlooker’s excitement (and photo opportunities), the Californian, America, and San Salvador sailed in close company with Star of India as it cruised back into San Diego Bay both days.
Star of India first came to the City of San Diego in 1927. It was not until 1951 when Maritime Museum of San Diego made long-awaited historical renovations to the vessel, originally named Euterpe, after the Greek goddess of music and poetry. Star of India relies on Maritime Museum of San Diego volunteers and staff for her upkeep.
Star of India is the oldest iron-hulled merchant ship still afloat. She was launched as the fully-rigged ship Euterpe at Ramsey Shipyard on the Isle of Man in 1863.
Euterpe began her working life with two near-disastrous voyages to India. On her first trip, she suffered a collision and a mutiny. On her second, a cyclone caught Euterpe in the Bay of Bengal, and with her topmasts cut away, she barely made port. Shortly afterward, her first captain died on board and was buried at sea.
After such misfortunes, Euterpe would eventually make four more voyages to India as a cargo ship.
In 1871 she was purchased by the Shaw Savill line of London and for the next quarter century she transported hundreds of emigrants to New Zealand and Australia. During this period, she made twenty-one circumnavigations. It was rugged voyaging, with the little iron ship battling through terrific gales, “laboring and rolling in a most distressing manner,” according to her log.
With the opening of the Suez Canal, and sail giving way to steam power, Euterpe would eventually be sold to the Alaska Packers Association. In 1901, her new owners changed her rig to that of a bark (her present configuration). By the time of her retirement in 1923, she had made 22 voyages from San Francisco to Alaska, returning each year with her hold laden with canned salmon.
In 1926, Star of India was sold to the Zoological Society of San Diego as the projected centerpiece for an aquarium and museum. The Great Depression and World War II saw these proposals languish from lack of funding. Eventually in the late 1950s and early 1960s, thanks to a groundswell of support from local San Diegans, Star of India was restored to sailing condition. In 1976, she set sail once again. Her preservation continues as a living reminder of the great Age of Sail, thanks to the tireless efforts of curators and volunteers at the Maritime Museum of San Diego.