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$1 for tall ship, $1.5 million for repairs

Newly formed foundation will fix up Argus, which has taught Sea Scouts to sail for decades.

February 23, 2007|By Alicia Robinson

The 102-year-old tall ship Argus will be made seaworthy again, but once it's ship-shape, the vessel will need a new home.

The Newport Sea Base, where the ship has docked since about 1972, signed a deal Thursday to sell Argus for $1 to the newly formed Argus Foundation. The foundation will work to raise the $1.5 million or more needed to repair the wood-hulled ship.

Over the years, hundreds of Boy Scouts have learned to sail on Argus, a 92-foot topsail ketch that was built in 1905 in Denmark as a work boat. Argus has been out of commission since early 2006, when a U.S. Coast Guard inspection showed it needed extensive and costly repairs because of wood rot and iron sickness that cause the ship to leak.

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Sea base officials tried in May to auction the ship on eBay, but no one ponied up the $75,000 starting bid.

Now the Argus Foundation is hoping to fix the vessel's deterioration and put it back in service. A number of former Sea Scouts have joined the effort, including Wayne Ettle, a shipwright who will rebuild Argus. He learned to sail aboard the boat as a teen.

"The Scouts weren't in a position to raise funds and continue its operation, and enough people came forward, and it's such a valuable asset to the area," said Ralph Whitford, a former sea base director who helped create the foundation.

The ship will be repaired in Wilmington, Calif. Whitford estimated the overhaul could take two years.

Argus is "a big part of what made the sea base what it is today," said Les Baron, president of the Orange County Council of Boy Scouts, which operates the sea base. "There'll be some teary eyes as the Argus leaves, but tears of joy as well."

Once the foundation owns Argus, it can no longer dock at the sea base, so Whitford said he'll look for a new home for the boat, preferably in Newport. The ship still could be chartered to the Boy Scouts, but it also would be available to the rest of the public.

Baron said Boy Scouts officials are considering how best to provide sailing programs in the future. After Argus was out of use, the base chartered Kelpie, a 65-foot schooner, for some sailing instruction last year.

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