The Bay Area Man Who Bought a Cruise Ship on Craigslist

by Tamara Hardingham-Gill | CNN

It’s not every day that you see a cruise ship for sale on Craigslist. So Chris Wilson was immediately interested when he stumbled across a 293-foot ship listed on a classified advertising website in 2008.

The retired “pocket” cruise ship, built in Germany, was installed at the time in the California Delta, and its then-owners were eager to land it.

After seeing the listing pop up several times, Wilson, who had been working on developing a virtual reality tour, decided to do some investigation.

“I was introduced as a potential buyer, even though I wasn’t really interested in buying the ship,” Wilson tells CNN Travel. “It was a little out of my comfort level, to say the least.”

Once he sailed and boarded the inland river delta and estuary in Northern California, Wilson was impressed by how badly the 2,496 gross-ton ship had been neglected over the years.

However, as he began further exploration, he realized that beneath all the “junk” on board was a very impressive five-stage vessel.

A grand staircase on the ship, which Wilson named the Aurora. (Christopher Wilson via CNN)

seal the deal

“She has one of the most spectacular layouts of any ship I’ve ever seen,” he continued. “Stairs are fantastic.

“It’s almost like you found an old Corvette from the ’60s in the garage. You can see there’s quality, but it’s so neglected, you almost feel bad for it.”

After doing some excavations in the ship’s background, they found that it had been built by the Blohm and Voss shipyards in 1955, and was the first significant passenger ship built by Germany after World War II.

The more he learned about the ship, which was originally named Wappen von Hamburg, the more convinced he became that this was a project he was ready to take on.

After carefully considering the enormity of what it would mean to own a mini cruise ship, Wilson drew up a restoration plan and decided to take the plunge.

While he is reluctant to discuss the amount paid, he says he was able to “get a really good deal with the owner of the ship.”

“Next thing you know, I have a ship,” Wilson says.

But once he signed on the dotted line, he had to figure out where he was going to put it. Thankfully, Wilson was able to secure a lease in the California river town of Rio Vista and arranged for the ship to be taken there.

Hypatia H 2999D9E863B62B8F2Ec1A0C9A1F4D284 H 148520Ba1Ca7Bb251048C348Eda6Ad0D
Wilson self-funded the bulk of the work, but hopes to raise enough money to turn it into a museum. (Christopher Wilson via CNN)

passion project

Then the restoration process started. The first step was to get rid of all the garbage on board — Wilson says there were hundreds of bags of household-type garbage along with old mattresses and blankets — and set up finding volunteers to help.

“I thought it was going to be a long project,” Wilson says. “The scale was massive. It’s about the same as rebuilding 15 houses on your own.”

After spending a few months traveling about three hours from his home in Santa Cruz to work on the ship, Wilson decided to go on board with his partner Jin Lee so that he could focus entirely on the project, with Just keep it safe.

“Many of my friends and family were in disbelief when I first rode,” he admits. “It was a big change in lifestyle. But I see it as an upgrade, although we are off grid and mainly running on generators and solar grid.”

As he began further digging into the ship’s history, Wilson says he learned that, not only was it the inspiration for the popular TV series “The Love Boat”, it was also the filming location for the Specter criminal organization headquarters in 1963. Was. James Bond film “From Russia with Love”.

The ship served as a cruise ship for nearly two decades, he says, and went through several different owners as well as names before being moored in Vancouver.

After a few false starts and more ownership and name changes, it was moved to Alameda, California in 2005. There were plans to convert it into a luxury yacht, but they ultimately failed.

The ship remained in Alameda for several years until it was purchased by a merchant and transferred to the California Delta. When Wilson saw it advertised on Craigslist in 2008, the ship was believed to be on the verge of extinction.

Hypatia H 472Bbeeae5921289B0736Dc07106D8Fc H 148520Ba1Ca7Bb251048C348Eda6Ad0D 1
Wilson is working on the ship, which is located in a marina in Little Potato Slough, California, with the help of volunteers. (Christopher Wilson via CNN)

historic ship

“The more I learned about history, the more I was thinking it might be an edge-of-the-seat attraction like the Queen Mary [a retired ocean liner moored at Long Beach that’s now a popular tourist attraction],” he explains. “I want to make a museum out of it and let people visit [of the ship],

He estimates it will cost about $3 million to convert the ship into a shore attraction.

Wilson, who had no prior experience working on ships, spent nearly 14 years renovating ships with the help of volunteers.

“I’m very smart,” he says, explaining that he had rebuilt a lot of cars in the past and previously worked as an electrical mechanical engineer doing disaster recovery.

After spending his first night on board he named the ship Aurora.

“Woke up to one of the most spectacular sunrises I’ve ever seen,” Wilson explains. “It was creating an aurora type effect with clouds and water. I remember ‘Aurora’ was an apt name at that time.”

With the help of volunteers, Lee, who Wilson says has been instrumental in helping preserve the aurora, has completed renovations on some routes, as well as a lounge and several cabins.

“Our biggest accomplishment is removing the old wood from the deck and spending a huge amount of time welding in the new steel plates to completely seal the deck,” he says.

“Working on a ship is not the biggest challenge, but dealing with the politics behind it. Does the county or city want your ship there?”

After a few years at Rio Vista, Wilson was offered a berth at San Francisco’s Pier 38 and moved to Aurora there. However, things did not go as they had hoped, and Wilson was later asked to find a new home for the ship.

They moved it back to the California Delta in 2012, damming the aurora in a marina at Little Potato Slough, about 24 kilometers from the city of Stockton in California’s Central Valley.

Aurora has since been stationed here “in fresh shallow water” and is set to remain for the foreseeable future. ,

Although the ship is unable to sail, Wilson insists that it has a “solid bottom”, and after consulting with several marine engineers, he is confident that, “with proper maintenance and supervision,” it will be able to land safely. can stay where it is.

“Unless we take it out where there’s a lot of electrolysis and things like that,” he says. “She is safe for the time being, but we plan to move her closer to the bay when she is ahead in her recovery.”

He hopes to raise enough money to get the ship out of the water and redo the underside at some point.

Http Cdn.cnn .Com Cnnnext Dam Assets 220404181942 05 Craigslist Cruise Ship
Home Sweet Home: He and his partner Jin Lee moved on board so they could spend more time working on the ship, as well as keep it safe. (Christopher Wilson via CNN)

raising funds

“As far as actually working on the ship, I’ve learned a lot,” he says. “There’s nothing I don’t know how to fix. But it takes a lot of money to get there.”

Aside from a few small donations, Wilson has so far self-funded the bulk of the renovation work.

He has been able to raise finances for the work by purchasing items from flea markets and state auctions and reselling them on online auction sites such as eBay, as well as working as a consultant on other historic vessel projects.

But while this proceeds have kept the project going so far, it certainly isn’t enough for a full restoration, and Wilson is determined to finish what he started.

Leave a Comment