Dubai, United Arab Emirates (CNN) – It does not happen every day that you can find a sailing boat for sale online, which is exactly what shocked Chris Wilson when he found a 293 meter long boat listed on the advertising site Craigslist in 2008.
The retired cruise ship, built in Germany, was anchored in the California Delta, America at the time and its owner was eager to unload it.
After seeing the pop-up window on the page several times, Wilson, who had been conducting virtual reality tours, decided to do some research.
“I introduced myself as a potential buyer, even though I was not interested in buying a boat,” Wilson told CNN.
After making the voyage to the inland river delta and estuary in Northern California, and boarding it, Wilson was struck by how badly the 2,496-tonne ship had been neglected over the years.
However, when he began to explore it, he realized that there was a magnificent five-level ship hiding under all the “trash” on board.
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“She has one of the most beautiful models of almost every boat I have ever seen,” Wilson added.
It was like finding an old 1960s car in the garage, Wilson said, adding, “You can see its quality, but it’s so neglected that you almost feel bad about it.”
After doing some research on the history of the ship, Wilson discovered that it was built by German shipbuilder Blohm + Voss in 1955, and was the first major passenger ship built by Germany after World War II.
The more Wilson knew the ship, originally called the Wappen von Hamburg, the more convinced he was that this was a project he was willing to undertake.
After carefully considering the bay of what it means to have a small cruise ship, Wilson devised a restoration plan and decided to take the adventure.
While hating to discuss how much he paid, Wilson said he was able to “conclude a really good deal with the ship owner”.
But once he signed the contract, he needed to know where to place the ship. Fortunately, Wilson was able to secure a lease in Rio Vista, on the banks of the California River, and arranged for the ship to be towed there.
And so the restoration process began. The first step was to get rid of all the debris on board, as there were hundreds of garbage bags along with old mattresses and blankets.
“I knew it was going to be a long project,” Wilson said, noting that the large size of the ship made it like rebuilding 15 homes themselves.
After spending several months traveling for about three hours from his home in the Santa Cruz area to work on the boat, Wilson decided to move aboard with partner Jin Lee so he could focus fully on the project as well as kept him safe.
“When I first boarded the boat, many of my friends and family were shocked,” Wilson admitted. “It was a pretty big lifestyle change.”
As he began to delve deeper into the history of the ship, Wilson said he learned that the ship was not only the inspiration for the popular TV series “The Love Boat”, but was also the location for the filming of the headquarters of the criminal organization “Specter” in James’s film. Bond of 1963 “From Russia with love”.
The ship operated as a tourist destination for about two decades, according to Wilson, and was passed by many different owners, before anchoring in Vancouver, Canada.
Following further changes in ownership and names, the ship was towed to Alameda, California, USA, in 2005.
Plans were made to turn the ship into a luxury yacht, but they failed.
The ship stayed in Alameda for several years until it was bought by a businessman and relocated to the California Delta.
It was thought the ship was about to crash when Wilson found its ad on Craiglist in 2008.
Wilson explained: “The more I learned about her story, the more I thought it could become a beach attraction, somewhat like Queen Mary. [سفينة المحيط المتقاعدة الراسية في لونغ بيتش، والتي أصبحت الآن منطقة جذب سياحي شهيرة]”.
“I would like to make it a museum to allow people to do on-board tours,” he continued.
Wilson estimates that the cost of converting the ship into a coastal attraction will be around $ 3 million.
Wilson, who had no previous experience working on the ship, spent about 14 years renovating the ship with the help of volunteers.
He named the ship “Aurora”, meaning aurora borealis, after spending his first night aboard. He explained why he chose that name, saying he woke up to one of the most wonderful dawns he had ever seen.
He continued, “The scene formed an aurora-like effect when the colors of the clouds mingled with the water,” adding, “I remember thinking at the time that Aurora was an apt name.”
With the help of volunteers and his partner Lee, Wilson completed the renovation of some of the halls, as well as the lounge and a number of cabins.
Wilson noted that their greatest achievement was the removal of old wood from roofs, adding: “We spent tremendous time welding new steel plates to completely seal the roofs.”
After a few years in Rio Vista, Wilson offered to take his boat to Pier 38 in San Francisco. However, things did not go as expected and he was later asked to find a new home for the ship.
The Aurora was transported back to the California Delta in 2012, where it anchored in Little Potato Slough, located about 24 miles from Stockton, California.
Aurora has been settled in the “shallows of freshwater” ever since and looks set to stay there for the foreseeable future.
Although the ship is not detailed, Wilson claims it has a strong bottom and, after consulting with a number of marine engineers, is convinced that “with proper maintenance and supervision”, it can stay safe where it is.
Aside from a few small donations, Wilson has self-funded most of the renovation to date.
He was able to raise funds by purchasing items at flea markets and reselling them through online auction sites, as well as working as a consultant on other historic shipping projects.
But while that revenue has kept the project going, it certainly is not enough to fund a full restoration, with Wilson determined to finish what he started.
Wilson launched the “Aurora” restoration project last February through the YouTube platform and the channel has gained about 70,000 subscribers.
Since the announcement of his project on YouTube, he said, he has received hundreds upon hundreds of voluntary congratulations.
Wilson hopes the platform’s success will help speed things up, saying he is already seeing the results of that.
Although the ship still has a long way to go, Wilson is slowly approaching his goal of turning “Aurora” into a museum.
While he was also considering converting the ship into a guesthouse, or even a wedding venue, he thinks the museum is the most “real” option.
And of course there is plenty to see on board the Aurora.
The ship has 85 cabins, as well as its large deck on the front deck, swimming pool, large dining room and theater.
“We have restored a small number of cabins on board, but we still have a long way to go and we will soon offer the public an opportunity to sponsor the restoration of the cabins,” Wilson explained.
Wilson and his team of volunteers are currently working on the rear of the ship and aim to restore the entire kitchen and dining area for the remainder of 2022.
In recent years, Wilson has borrowed furniture from other historic ships for use in the Aurora.
Currently, Wilson enjoys working and living on the ship and can hardly wait for the day when he will be able to open it to the public.
“There is nothing more exciting than being able to work and live with something unique,” he added.
But does he have any hope that this magnificent ship will sail again one day?
“If the revenue is there, we can make it sail again,” Wilson asserted. “If not, it could be a wonderful museum.”