Former tech developer bought a 1955 ship on Craigslist to restore it: photos – Insider

Willson, a former tech developer, was working on virtual-tour software when he stumbled across a cruise ship named “Faithful” on Craigslist. Keen to do a virtual tour of the ship, he reached out to the owner.
“I pretended to be a potential buyer, and the owner, who was a ship salvager, let me on board. After doing the virtual tour, I went home curious about the ship’s history but could not find anything about it,” Willson told Insider.
Willson spent days researching the ship’s history until he found a photo that looked exactly like the vessel.
“I went through over hundreds of images of vintage ocean liners, and did a lot of matching and cross-referencing of the ship’s appearance before I found a match,” Willson said.
Willson decided to buy the ship, which was covered in layers of old paint, because of its historical value.
Willson told Insider the ship was listed on Craigslist for $1.2 million, but he negotiated with the seller to slash the buying price in half. Insider was not able to independently verify the price of the ship.
After Willson took ownership of the vessel, he renamed it Aurora.
German shipbuilding company Blohm+Voss, which built the ship, confirmed to Insider that Aurora and the Wappen von Hamburg are the same ship.
Willson spent 13 years traveling to places destroyed by fires and floods to salvage mechanical and electrical equipment for insurance restoration companies.
“I have always been a fast learner and was always good at working with my hands. I’ve rebuilt a bunch of cars,” Willson said.
When Willson took ownership of the cruise ship, he it was full of cardboard boxes, old chairs, and mattresses.
“Some of it was useable stuff, but just a lot of it was absolute garbage that we had to get rid of,” Willson said in one of his YouTube videos.
The wood on the deck had been completely destroyed by moisture, Willson said. He had to get rid of all the rotted wood and rust before he could even begin the restoration process. 
The passageway is now carpeted and has fresh coats of paint.
A comment from one Facebook user made Willson realize Aurora was the floating SPECTRE headquarters in the 1963 James Bond movie, “From Russia with Love.” After scrutinizing scenes from the movie, he realized it was true.
Other Facebook users shared old travel brochures of the cruise. From 1972 to 1977, the ship was named Xanadu, and it was famous for its voyages around Alaska and North America, per East Bay Times.
“She had a real exclusive air about her; she was very yacht-like,” maritime historian Peter Knego told the outlet in 2008. “It was very prestigious to sail in the ship when it was called Xanadu.”
The refurbishment process has picked up pace in recent years.
In December, he launched a YouTube channel called “Aurora Restoration Project,” which has helped raise the profile of his project. The YouTube channel documents the ongoing restoration process of the cruise ship. The channel has 13 videos that have garnered a total of 2.4 million views and over 77,000 subscribers.
“In July, we expect 80 to 100 volunteers, mostly people from Silicon Valley as there is a tech event — Ephemerisle — a mile and a half away from here. The CEO and founder of the internet archive tool, Wayback Machine, will also be joining us,” Willson added.
“I do what I can to help Aurora — a great project, and Chris is a very welcoming captain,” Brewster Kahle, the CEO of Wayback Machine, told Insider.
Volunteers need not have any relevant skill sets: Willson said he welcomes help from a range of volunteers, from people with experience working on museum ships to people who can only paint.
Willson is also raising funds to help him restore the vessel. He told Insider his goal is to raise $3 million.
“Once you have finished one end of the ship, you have to start all over again by the time you get to the other end. Even a brand new ship requires maintenance right off the bat,” Willson said.
“We are just finished removing all of the old and outdated fixtures, and we’re currently working on raising money to get this area back into shape,” he said.
Willson says he intends to restore all 85 cabins over time. He currently lives on the boat with his wife: “If I don’t stay, people will come and just steal things.”
He intends to transform Aurora into a bed and breakfast and an events center.
“I hope to be able to restore it to become a working coastal cruiser and allow it to cruise up and down the West Coast into Mexico and Canada,” Willson said.
Read next


Leave a Comment