The Swift of Ipswich, built in 1938 and once serving as actor James Cagney’s personal yacht, is being restored and will rejoin the Los Angeles Maritime Institute’s fleet of tall ships used for youth sail training on the San Pedro-Wilmington waterfront. Workers hoist the 70-foot, wooden topsail schooner — a replica of a Revolutionary War privateer — onto a barge early Friday 1/5 morning to be brought back to San Pedro.
Photo By Michael Hare
By DONNA LITTLEJOHN | email@example.com | Daily Breeze January 8, 2018, at 4:30 pm
When the topsail schooner Swift of Ipswich was taken out of service for repairs in 2006, it was supposed to return to the Los Angeles Maritime Institute’s youth training program within a few years.
Perhaps that timetable was a bit optimistic. By the time it’s finished in about 18 months, accounting for more fundraising and the last phase of repairs, the work will have taken well over a decade.
Blame it on more extensive repairs than anticipated, having to meet updated U.S. Coast Guard regulations and a recession that killed donations, resulting in the project running out of money. But the final stretch is in sight.
The vessel that once served as actor James Cagney’s personal yacht was returned from a shipyard in Chula Vista to the San Pedro-Wilmington waterfront a few days ago. Still ahead are more repairs that are expected to take at least a year — and, before that, more fundraising.
When the $2.8 million restorations are finished, the Swift initially will be based near Banning’s Landing in Wilmington, where it will specialize in providing sail trips for fifth-graders.
“She was the matriarch of the (Top Sail) vessels,” said Alice Robinson, who served as the ship’s captain form 1992 through the early 2000s. “We started the (Top Sail) program with her. She’s so intimate and great for younger ladies and gentlemen.”
The tall ship Swift of Ipswich sails under the Vincent Thomas Bridge as she entered the Port of Los Angeles on Sept. 6, 2002. The ship was one of more than a dozen tall ships participating in the “Festival of Sail.” (AP Photo/Nick Ut)
The program, now in its 25th year, served 6,016 students in 2016-17. At-risk youngsters in the Top Sail program are all given a chance to take the helm on sailing trips to Catalina Island, learning new skills while practicing the art of teamwork.
The 70-foot wooden vessel, a replica of a Revolutionary War privateer, was built in 1938 in Ipswich, Massachusetts.
Cagney purchased the ship, moving it to Newport Beach as his private yacht. It also appeared in several Hollywood films and television shows, including “Treasure Island,” “Fantasy Island,” and several commercials.
Out of the history books
“When they first see the Swift of Ipswich, they say, ‘Oh, a pirate ship,’ ” Robinson said the young people who have sailed on the Swift. “They’re intrigued with the way she looks.” While pirates are thieves, privateers in colonial times were licensed by a government.
The original Swift, an American privateer during the Revolutionary War, was captured by the British Navy and later destroyed, but drawings still existed and were used to construct the replica.
Cagney sold the ship in 1958 and it was used for harbor tours before the institute acquired it in 1991. The other two ships in the fleet — the Irving Johnson and Exy Johnson brigantines — are larger and have been designated as Los Angeles city’s official welcoming vessels.
Wear and tear took its toll on the Swift over the years, requiring a new wooden deck. But once work began, workers discovered that many more repairs would be needed. Structural and design changes were required to comply with updated Coast Guard regulations.
Part of the initial restoration funding was awarded from the so-called China Shipping mitigation fund, established as part of a settlement reached in 2003 with Harbor Area residents opposed to the terminal expansion.The repaired ship, Robinson said, will maintain its original look.The Swift of Ipswich, built in 1938 and once serving as actor James Cagney’s personal yacht, is being restored and will rejoin the Los Angeles Maritime Institute’s fleet of tall ships used for youth sail training on San Pedro’s waterfront. Workers hoist the 70-foot, wooden topsail schooner — a replica of a Revolutionary War privateer — onto a barge early Friday morning to be brought back to San Pedro. Photo By Michael Hare
“It’s going to look pretty authentic. That’s what we were hoping to go for,” she said. The original lines will be the same, though the ship will have less rigging as part of stability requirements enforced by the Coast Guard.
Fundraising, more work ahead
The ship now is in the Maritime Institute’s yard near San Pedro’s fishing slip at the south end of Ports O’ Call Village, where the remaining work will be done in the institute’s Building G workshop on site.
When it’s back at sea, the Swift will increase the Top Sail program’s capacity by about 3,000 students a year, shifting a focus to serving more upper elementary and lower middle school students.
In 2008, the estimated costs for repairs — which still stands — was $2.8 million. Improvements amounting to $2.3 million have been completed.
The institute needs $50,000 to cover expenses associated with the move of the vessel from Chula Vista to San Pedro and another $500,000 will be needed for the last step of repairs to be carried out by professionals and community volunteers. Read more on the Daily Breeze.