Man About Town: At sea with a crew of fourth-grade insomniacs


Gerald Freeman captains the Pilgrim in Dana Point Harbor. His crew? A bunch of little kids. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

You can have a wedding here, or a birthday party or just climb aboard during the Sunday public tours.

What makes the Pilgrim so appealing is that it's not at all Disneyfied. It's a rusty replica of the brig immortalized by author Richard Henry Dana in "Two Years Before the Mast." As such, it's a working ship, a few boards missing, suggestive of sardines, as if it's still 1835, when Dana's ship plied this same harbor in search of cow hide from the area's ranches and missions.

On this day, the ship is helmed by Capt. Gerald Freeman, salty as a pretzel. He screams at the kids about their duties — they cook the meals, they coil the ropes, they swab the decks.

For almost 20 hours, beginning with their hiring as greenhorn sailors, the kids work and learn and shiver.

Bless 'em, because they are good sports, challenged by this crusty-great Capt. Freeman, who jeers, cajoles and insists they do many un-fourth-gradey things, like stand up straight.

What an adventure. Through the captain's colorful stories, we travel halfway around the world in just one night, yet never leave port.

God must really have a crush on California, decorating it with glittery little harbors like this one, filling it with beautiful ships and pelicans and sun-kissed children.

And the best hot chocolate at 3 a.m.


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