The iconic Dana Point “Pilgrim” ship sinks in harbor 

The Pilgrim being held up by the large crane just hours after it was reported non salvageable. (Connor Hedges/Lariat)




The Pilgrim ship that originally came to the Ocean Institute at the Dana Point Harbor in the fall of 1981, sunk last Sunday morning. The cause is still to be determined with various agencies working together to investigate the cause as well as also helping to stabilize the ship. The devastating news came at a time already very difficult for many  due to all of the COVID-19 uncertainty.

“I was very shocked and devastated to learn of the Pilgrim sinking, I grew up going to the Ocean Institute as a kid and the Pilgrim was my favorite part of every trip,” Saddleback sophomore Riley Aruajo said. “With 2020 already being a very difficult year for everybody, this couldn’t have come at a worse time.”

A barge with a large crane came to the harbor on Thursday with efforts to help lift the ship off of the Harbors floor by placing airbags underneath it. This effort was to prevent it from heeling or tipping over any more than it had. Later on, the United States Coast Guard also brought in divers from other agencies to go beneath the ship to help stabilize the bow (front part) of the ship with bands once the airbags were placed under it. All fuel within and around the ship was also safely removed.

While time was ticking and extreme efforts of trying to salvage the ship, the crews were unable to salvage parts of the ship because of how much it perished in such a short amount of time. Due to the weight of the ship from all of the water that it had consumed and the state it was in, Coast Guard officials decided to suspend efforts for the day, with the divers’ safety in mind. The Ocean Institute is working on drawing up a new plan that will try to lift the ship completely out of the water in order to bring it to a shipyard to determine the cause of the wreckage.

“Although I am completely upset that I won’t be able to see the Pilgrim next time I visit the Dana Point Harbor, I believe many people can agree how much it benefited people from all over for a few decades,” Saddleback freshman Mallory Black said. “Countless schools, including mine, visited the Pilgrim a dozen times when I was growing up. I will never forget my time spent going to see that masterpiece.”

The Pilgrim first came to dock in the Dana Point Harbor to serve as a classroom in collaboration with the Ocean Institute for students all over South Orange County, with visitors also allowed to come aboard and learn the history of the ship. The Ocean Institute is an organization that educates people of all ages through dozens of programs on marine life/science and maritime history.

Due to the Pilgrim being docked in Dana Point for nearly 40 years, people of all ages have stepped foot onto the ship during that span. The Ocean Institute received outpouring amounts of messages, calls, etc. when people learned of the Pilgrim sinking. Many memories as a child and even adult had come from the Pilgrim, with its stature being a ship you couldn’t forget when visiting the institute or harbor. 

The Ocean Institute set up a donation page on their website for all those willing to spare any extra funds to help with the recovery and possible maintenance of the ship, if it were to be rebuilt.