I’ve photographed this classic ship many times and will undoubtably photograph it again. But one photo stands out for me even though it violates some rules.
The Pilgrim is a replica of a vessel mentioned in the 19th century travelogue “Two Years Before the Mast”. Richard Henry Dana’s eyesight was failing, so he briefly gave up studying at Harvard for a voyage to California.
There was no Panama Canal in those days, so the tiny ship sailed around the Cape Horn or southern most tip of South America. When it arrived in California, it sold its cargo of clothing, furniture, and porcelain to the Californios (Spanish Californians) and began refilling its holds with cow hides to be used by the New England shoe trade.
At the place now known at Dana Point, vaqueros or cowboys threw the stiff hides over the cliffs to the waiting ship. In the late 20th century, a reproduction of the Pilgrim was constructed and berthed in Dana Point Harbor. It now serves as a classroom for local students and interested tourists.
I’ve loved the Pilgrim for as long as I have known her. Many times have I photographed her, sometimes with my digital camera, once with a Kodak Funsaver Panoramic camera, and often with other cameras. But the one photo that stands out for me is one I took with my Instax.
If you look at the shot as a photography teacher might, it is a bad photo. The subject is dark against a light background. It is slightly out of focus. But I feel that it captures the presence of the little merchantman (can you believe they sailed around the Cape Horn of all places in something that small? you must ask) better than any others. To see the Pilgrim is an intimate experience. You feel the strength of keel and the closeness of the space. The creak of the masts in an ocean breeze reminds you of the seasick men who climbed into the rigging of its original and of the one fell into the ocean on a clear day — never to be seen again.
The Pilgrim is a treasure of Dana Point’s Ocean Institute. It is worth your while to stretch your trip to Orange County, California beyond Disneyland and visit it.