A former tech developer bought a rusting 1955 cruise ship on Craigslist and estimates he spent $1 million restoring it. Check it out.

When Christopher Willson found an old cruise ship on Craigslist in 2008, it was a happy accident.

Willson at the stern of the cruise liner.

Courtesy of Christopher Willson

Willson, a former tech developer, was working on virtual tour software when he came across a cruise ship named “Faithful” on Craigslist. Anxious to take a virtual tour of the ship, he contacted the owner.

“I pretended to be a potential buyer, and the owner, who was a ship’s rescuer, let me on board. After taking the virtual tour, I returned home curious about the story of the ship but I couldn’t 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 ship.

“I looked through hundreds of images of vintage liners, and did a lot of comparing and cross-referencing the ship’s appearance before finding a match,” Willson said.

Willson discovered that the ship was the Wappen von Hamburg, one of the first ships officially built by Germany after World War II.

Wappen von Hamburg on the sea

The Wappen von Hamburg at sea.

Getty Images

Willson decided to buy the ship, which was covered with layers of old paintbecause of its historical value.

Willson told Insider the ship was listed on Craigslist for $1.2 million, but he negotiated with the seller to halve the purchase price. Insider was unable to independently verify the price of the vessel.

After Willson took possession of the ship, 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 had no experience in shipbuilding, but his past career as a disaster recovery specialist taught him how to fix things.

Rusty stern of a cruise ship

Aurora’s stern in 2008. Aurora was extremely rusty when Willson first saw her.

Courtesy of Christopher Willson

Willson spent 13 years traveling to places destroyed by fires and floods to recover mechanical and electrical equipment for insurance restoration companies.

“I’ve always learned fast and I’ve always been good at working with my hands. I’ve rebuilt a bunch of cars,” Willson said.

To breathe new life into Aurora’s hallway, Willson removed the concrete floors and paneled walls to repair the underlying damage.


Before and after photos of Aurora’s passage.

Courtesy of Christopher Willson

The passage is now carpeted and has fresh coats of paint.

In 2015, Willson created a Facebook page called Aurora Project Restoration. People started sharing more information about the ship.

Aurora Ship

Aurora’s lower entrance before its restoration.

Courtesy of Christopher Willson

A Facebook user comment made Willson realize that Aurora was SPECTER’s floating seat in the 1963 James Bond film, “From Russia with love.” After scrutinizing the scenes from the film, he realized it was true.

Other Facebook users shared old travel brochures of the cruise. From 1972 to 1977, the ship was called Xanadu, and it was famous for its voyages around Alaska and North America, for East Bay Time.

“She had a real exclusive air about her; she looked a lot like a yacht,” maritime historian Peter Knego said in 2008. “It was very prestigious to sail on the ship when it was called Xanadu.”

Willson said he spends 10 hours a day restoring Aurora.

paint the boat

Courtesy of Christopher Willson

The renovation process has accelerated in recent years.

In December, he launched a Youtube channel called “Aurora Restoration Project”, which helped raise the profile of his project. The YouTube channel documents the cruise ship’s ongoing restoration process. The channel has 13 videos that have totaled 2.4 million views and over 77,000 subscribers.

Willson expects a big increase in activity on the boat in July.

The promenade bridge

The promenade bridge after Willson replaced 30% of the rusted steel and sealed the decks.

Courtesy of Christopher Willson

“In July, we are expecting 80 to 100 volunteers, mostly people from Silicon Valley because there is a technology event – Ephemerisle – a mile and a half from here. The CEO and founder of the internet archiving tool, Wayback Machine, will also be joining us,” added Willson.

“I’m doing what I can to help Aurora – a great project, and Chris is a very welcoming captain,” Wayback Machine CEO Brewster Kahle told Insider.

Volunteers don’t need to have relevant skills: Willson said he welcomes help from a range of volunteers, from people with experience working on museum ships to people who can only paint .

The renovations are currently 40% complete. Willson told Insider he’s already spent around $1 million fixing the ship.

Girl washing the floor on the boat

Courtesy of Christopher Willson

Willson is also raise funds to help him restore the ship. He told Insider his goal was to raise $3 million.

“Once you finish 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 from the start,” Willson said.

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