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Spectacular sailing specimen to visit

The tall ship Californian will offer tours, a chance to help sail it, and a message of coastal conservation.


© St. Petersburg Times, published May 24, 2000

ST. PETERSBURG -- This weekend visitors to The Pier will get a chance to tour or even help sail a replica of a tall ship from the Gold Rush era.

The Californian, whose masts rise 101 feet, is scheduled to arrive in St. Petersburg at 6 p.m. Friday as part of a yearlong voyage that will include ports of call along the Atlantic seaboard.

During its stop in St. Petersburg, visitors can learn about the ship and its mission to conserve coastal marine resources.

"We have a coastal pledge, which the public can read and sign," said Rusty White, director of operations for the Nautical Heritage Society, the ship's owner.

"Simply stated, it's a pledge to understand the coastal marine resources and to work for its stewardship. We encourage the public to identify and affiliate with local marine conservation groups and to be active in their missions. This is something we've been doing for 10 years in California. We felt that we ought to spread this message throughout the country."

Besides the free tours on Saturday, Sunday and Monday, the Californian also will be available to take visitors for a three-hour voyage -- for a fee -- on Sunday afternoon.

"We offer what we call a hands-on opportunity to actually work with the professional crew and help sail the ship," White said of the Sunday excursion.

Or, he added, "People can actually sit and observe."

The ship is a replica of the C.W. Lawrence, which was part of the Revenue Marine Service, predecessor of the U.S. Coast Guard. Built in Washington, D.C., in 1848, the C.W. Lawrence was sent to California at the height of the Gold Rush but was wrecked when it ran aground in San Francisco during a storm in 1851.

In 1982, the Nautical Heritage Society, a non-profit educational organization founded by retired businessman Steve Christman and his wife, Jula, announced plans to build a training vessel for students.

"(Christman) had a vision of building a ship that had historical significance to our state of California, and the society has a dual mission to educate our citizens about the state's rich maritime heritage and to understand and conserve our precious marine resources," White said.

The Californian, which is based in Long Beach, was launched on May 28, 1984.

"She is built in the traditional manner," White said. "She is a wooden ship, and she has no mechanical winches. Everything you do onboard is done by hand. This is an authentic replica with some special safety features required by the Coast Guard. We have a diesel engine we can use if we need to."

The ship was named "Official Tallship Ambassador for the State of California" by the state's governor and Legislature. During its 20,000-mile voyage, it will take part in OpSail 2000, a millennium gathering of international ships whose high point will be a July 4 celebration in New York City. The Californian is taking reservations for a limited number of passengers, White said.

"We can carry up to 12 and we actually have students on board from St. Petersburg to Miami."

The students, who are from Dade County high schools, will learn seamanship, character building and environmental conservation. A similar program, with modifications made for age, will be offered to other passengers who sign up for any part of the voyage, which will include stops in Canada, Mexico, Jamaica and Nassau.

The Californian's visit to St. Petersburg will be reminiscent of the HMS Bounty, the 169-foot, 412-ton wooden ship that was built for the remake of the movie Mutiny on the Bounty. The Bounty first came to St. Petersburg in 1965 and stayed year-round for the next 20 years.

If you go

The Californian is scheduled to arrive at 6 p.m. Friday. Free tours will be conducted from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday, and 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday.

On Sunday, visitors can sail on the ship from 3 to 6 p.m. The cost, $100 for adults and $50 for children 12 and under, includes beverages and a snack. Call (727) 821-6443 for information.

To find out about booking a passage on the Californian, call (800) 432-2201. The cost is $150 a day and includes food and a berth and a special sailing and environmental program.

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