A favorite destination among San Diego sightseers is the Star of India, known to be the “oldest active sailing ship” in the world and also one of the most haunted!
Star of India – Oldest Sailing Ship
The Star of India’s precarious life began in 1863, birthed in the Isle of Man. She was built by Gibson, McDonald & Arnold, of Ramsey to participate in the Indian jute trade and was launched on November 14, 1863. While most of her brothers and sisters were crafted with wood, she was built with iron – an innovative and experimental design of the time! Now, iron is heavy! So, you may be wondering how such a heavy vessel can float? The answer is of course, physics! Iron floats as long as the object weighs less than the same amount of water it displaces. Thus, with the success of her build we have the Star of India who made 21-recorded trips around the world!
This iron masterpiece launched with her original name, Euterpe which is a Greek name meaning, “Muse of Music”. Euterpe began as a cargo ship hauling goods to, and from, India.
Initially, the ship was full-rigged (meaning that it had 3 or more masts bearing square sails) and remained this way until 1901.
Collisions, Cyclones, Death and Mutiny
Her first two voyages were considered to be near-disastrous and quite tragic. In 1864 on her maiden voyage and under the command of Captain William John Storry, the ship collided with the Spanish when heading to Calcutta via Liverpool. The damage was extensive with the jib-boom being carried away and the rigging being mostly destroyed.
Following this collision, the ship experienced a mutiny where much of the crew where thrown in jail.
During it’s second voyage, a run in with a cyclone left the ship without a mast and sadly, on this return voyage, limping back to England, the crew had lost their Captian who had supposedly committed suicide by cutting his own throat. Upon his death, Captain Storry was given a burial at sea.
Learn more about Burials at Sea.
The Perilous Voyage to New Zealand
Following four more voyages to India, the Euterpe was sold in 1871 becoming the property of Shaw/Savill of London. Following this, she embarked on what would be a lengthy career carrying immigrants and freight to and from New Zealand. Life for the Euterpe’s sailors was tough yet tougher still for her passengers who, like sardines, were packed into cramped quarters on the ship’s “tween” deck. Only the toughest of sailors, from the working class of England, Ireland, and Scotland, were chosen for her crew as they were subjected to limited rations, disease and malnutrition. Many perished during the near-round the world voyage.
The Euterpe was sold again in 1901 to the Alaska Packers Association who re-rigged her down to her current status as a barque. She then carried fishermen, workers, coal and canning supplies to and from the Bering Sea to Oakland, CA. Following five years after her new ownership, the ship was renamed the Star of India.
She continued her career until she was sold to the San Diego Zoological Society in 1926. Her 25-year career had her carrying passengers to California, Chile, Australia and New Zealand. In total, she sailed around the world 21 times – of which we are aware. She languished in disrepair during the Great Depression and World War II where repair work was delayed until 1957 and nineteen years later, in 1976, she was once again put to sea.
Visiting the Star of India
The ship today has been retired and you can visit the Star of India, where she graces the harbor skyline in downtown San Diego at the San Diego Maritime Museum. The ship rests as both a California Historical Landmark and as a United States Historical Landmark.
While visiting the ship, you can imagine what it would have felt like to have been one of her crew. As you step upon her wooden deck and look around; as you breathe in fresh, salty sea air, visualize what it may have felt like as the ship rocked in high seas, as her mast was consumed by the cyclone, as your fellow crew members scrambled, as you helplessly observed your Captain being taken overboard and forever lost at sea. Maybe your heart beats a little faster; your breath quickens. As you grasp the cold, metal railing and run your fingers across the splintered wooden deck it almost feels as though you’ve been transported back through time. Maybe, like Jim Davis, you’ll feel, or see, the spirits that linger. Many say that it’s at twilight that the true history of this 150-year old vessel is revealed.
Experience the Hauntings
The Star of India is known for being a ship that carries souls of the departed. There are several well known places on the ship where visitors say they experience interesting sensations such as being slapped on their shoulder or feeling an “S” being drawn on their back.
The Star of India is open to the public and graces the harbor skyline in downtown San Diego as a “living” museum. She sails several times a year and offers interested volunteers the opportunity to learn how to operate the vessel.
We’d love to hear your personal experiences on the Star of India. Please share them on the comment section below.
- The Star of India boasts a “first class cabin” where living conditions were tremendously upgraded compared to the conditions that the working class endured on the tween deck.
- Unlike several other preserved or restored vessels, the Star of India’s hull, cabins, and equipment are almost all 100% original.
- Zak Bagans and the Ghost Adventures crew investigated paranormal activity aboard the 150-year old Star of India in 2016. Season 12: Episode 6 aired on March 5, 2016 on the Travel Channel.
- Jim Davis, Ship Operations Director for the Star of India, who began working on the ship as a teenager, almost immediately saw and heard things. One night he watched as a cupboard opened and then locked itself. He claims to have seen many paranormal “shadow” figures during his time working on the ship. A night watchman once reported to him that he’d heard a crowded party onboard but when he went to ask them to leave no one was there. Davis believes the ghost of a 15-year old stowaway named, John Campbell, who fell from the mast in the 1880’s set off the ship’s new alarm each night for 2 weeks in a row.
The museum, established in 1948, remains one of the largest collections for retired sea vessels in the Unites States. Other vessels at the museum include: the Berkeley, the Californian, the Medea, the Pilot, the HMS Surprise, and the B-39. Open to the public, The Star of India sails several times a year, providing opportunities for all those interested in learning how to operate this historic vessel.
I must go down to the sea again, to the lonely sea and the sky;
and all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by.
– John Masefield/Poet