Capt. John Kraus walked along the Spirit of Dana Point’s new wood deck made of noble fir, pointing out details recently refurbished while the tall ship was away at a San Diego shipyard.

Deadeyes – used to tie up the ship’s rigging – are now made of durable purple heart wood, replacing the wood and metal discs that had deteriorated in the salty air over the decades.

“A guy made them in Booth Bay in Maine,” Kraus said of the attention paid to the ship. A blacksmith’s hand forged the bands that secure the rigging.

Years ago, Kraus said he met with Dennis Halland, the boat’s builder, and really liked the story about how the Spirit came to be. “Being part of her now is an opportunity to use all the ideas I’ve had. I’m careful about what I do to the boat.”

Kraus has kept his eye on every part of the ship’s repair the last 14 months, visiting the ship almost weekly and helping crews pick out the important details not to miss on the 40-year-old vessel.

“There were a million different decisions to make,” he said, including what could be accomplished in the tight time frame the restoration had.

In June 2021, the ship left its dock at the Ocean Institute in Dana Point Harbor for the Marine Group Boat Works facility after a U.S. Coast Guard inspection called for a new wooden deck, Ocean Institute officials used the time in dry dock to also replace the existing masts, rigging and sails.

Initially, the cost was estimated at $1 million. When word got out that the Spirit needed help, fans of the Ocean Institute raised that and then more when the costs grew.

This summer, the city of Dana Point helped with a $25,000 contribution.

The tall ship is used to educate more than 5,000 school children a year on maritime history and pirate life.

Now back in the harbor, Kraus said he is doing his best to get the Spirit ready for the upcoming Maritime Festival planned for Sept. 9-11. While it likely won’t be ready to carry passengers until the end of September, he said it should be able to get a permit from the Coast Guard to host visitors aboard.

“We are at the tail end of this effort and could not be more excited to have the Spirit of Dana Point back in operation, in support of our mission,” said Wendy Marshall, president and CEO of the Ocean Institute. “Our first passengers will include field trips fully funded through our Adopt-A-Class program and public visitors.”

Kraus became familiar with the Spirit in the 1990s while taking a youth group from the YMCA to visit the Ocean Institute.

Most recently, for the about 13 years, he’d been working with the Los Angeles Maritime Institute and was captain of its twin brigantines, the Irving Johnson and the Exy Johnson. But, he always had a soft spot in his heart for the Spirit, he said.

So, when he was approached by Ocean Institute staff to see if he had an interest in taking over managing its restoration, he jumped at the opportunity. (Ironically, he first read about the effort to raise money for the tall ship’s repair in a newspaper while at the San Diego shipyard.)

“I got a lot of my early sea time on the Spirit; the more I thought about it, the more I wanted to do it,” he said.

Next week, Kraus will likely take on the most challenging step, yet, in the restoration. That’s when the ship’s 98-foot masts, its sails and at least two miles worth of rope and metal rigging will be installed on the ship. A precarious task that will take some doing.

The masts came in from Washington state, arriving as two massive logs in March – each is 72 feet long. Kraus, along with Spirit’s crew, has been working on preparing the masts, rigging and sails since then.

“It’s tricky cause it’s the fruit of all our work we’ve done since September,” he said, adding that some old parts of the Spirit’s masts are being included in the new masts and rigging. “Once it’s in and all the tension is done, I’ll sleep a bit better.”

In preparation for “stepping the masts,” the Ocean Institute, on Sunday, Aug. 28, will hold a coin ceremony. Coins are typically laid under the mast of a ship before it is raised and they are only seen again when it is taken down. When the Spirit’s masts were removed last year, Kraus found eight coins, some dating as far back as 1865. They will be returned with new ones added.

On Sunday, Kraus will also talk with visitors about the ship’s restoration, the tools used to complete the work and artifacts collected throughout the process.

When the Spirit is ready to take passengers, Kraus will be her captain.

“I’m happy about bringing the vessel back to the community of Dana Point,” he said, “and seeing the public and the schools experience her and learn from her for years to come.”