143-year-old bark Star of India is a working museum

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San Diego -- Seven bells on the forenoon watch, 11:30 a.m., the tug Pacific Queen let go the towline and the three-masted bark Star of India heeled gently in a light wind.

The Star of India, a 283-foot-long survivor of another time, sailed on the Pacific just off San Diego this weekend as it does once a year.

The Star, pride and joy of the San Diego Maritime Museum, was launched on the Isle of Man 143 years ago Tuesday and is the oldest active sailing vessel in the world, the last operating survivor of the great age of sail.

"We see this as an old ship,'' said Jerome Hall, a professor of marine archaeology at the University of San Diego. "But this was on the cutting edge of technology in the mid-19th century.''

It is hard to believe the Star was ever modern; it is built of iron, not steel, and has no engine. But it sailed from the British Isles to New Zealand, made passages to India and California, and sailed 21 times around the world. For 23 years, it was in the Alaska salmon trade with its home port in Alameda.

"This vessel was part of one of the great events of history,'' said Raymond Ashley, executive director of the San Diego Maritime Museum. "It was the great ocean migration from Europe to Australia and New Zealand that transformed those countries. It is the last ship from that age still sailing.''

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