Falls of Clyde (ship)

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Falls of Clyde
FallsofClyde Sailing Ship.jpg
Falls of Clyde at Honolulu Harbor
United States
NameFalls of Clyde
BuilderRussell and Company in Port Glasgow, Inverclyde, Scotland
HomeportHonolulu, Hawaii
IdentificationIMO number8640313
StatusMuseum ship
General characteristics
Tonnage1807 gross; 1741 net
Masts: 4
Configuration: Fully rigged ship
Figurehead: Maiden
Length280 ft (85.3 m)
Beam40 ft (12.2 m)
Draft21 ft (6.4 m)
Falls of Clyde (Four-masted Oil Tanker)
Falls of Clyde (ship) is located in Oahu
Falls of Clyde (ship)
Falls of Clyde (ship) is located in Hawaii
Falls of Clyde (ship)
LocationPier 7, Honolulu Harbor, Honolulu, Hawaii
Coordinates21°18′20.5″N 157°51′54″W / 21.305694°N 157.86500°W / 21.305694; -157.86500Coordinates: 21°18′20.5″N 157°51′54″W / 21.305694°N 157.86500°W / 21.305694; -157.86500
ArchitectWilliam Lithgow
NRHP reference No.73000659[1]
Significant dates
Added to NRHPJuly 2, 1973
Designated NHLApril 11, 1989

Falls of Clyde is the last surviving iron-hulled, four-masted full-rigged ship, and the only remaining sail-driven oil tanker. Designated a U.S. National Historic Landmark in 1989, she is now a museum ship in Honolulu, but her condition has deteriorated. She is currently not open to the public. In September 2008, ownership was transferred to a new nonprofit organization, the Friends of Falls of Clyde, which intends to restore her. Efforts to raise $1.5 million to get the ship into drydock have not succeeded as of 2015. An additional $30 million may be needed to fully restore the ship. On February 7, 2019 the Hawaii Department of Transportation put the ship up for auction, but did not receive any qualified bids.[2]


Falls of Clyde was built in 1878 by Russell and Company in Port Glasgow, Inverclyde, Scotland. She was launched as the first of nine iron-hulled four-masted ships for Wright and Breakenridge's Falls Line.[3] She was named after the Falls of Clyde, a group of waterfalls on the River Clyde, and built to the highest standard for general worldwide trade, Lloyd's Register A-1. Her maiden voyage took her to Karachi, now in Pakistan, and her first six years were spent engaged in the India trade. She then became a tramp pursuing general cargo such as lumber, jute, cement, and wheat from ports in Australia, California, India, New Zealand, and the British Isles.

After twenty-one years as a British merchantman, Falls of Clyde was purchased for US$25,000 by Captain William Matson of the Matson Navigation Company, taken to Honolulu in 1899, and registered under the Hawaiian flag. When the Republic of Hawaii was annexed by the United States in 1900, it took a special act of the United States Congress to secure the foreign-built ship the right to sail as an American flag vessel.

To economize on crew, Matson rigged Falls of Clyde down as a barque, replacing the five yards on her (jigger) mast with two more easily managed fore-and-aft sails. At the same time, he added a deckhouse, charthouse, and rearranged the after quarters to accommodate paying passengers. From 1899 to 1907, she made over sixty voyages between Hilo, Hawaii, and San Francisco, California, carrying general merchandise west, sugar east, and passengers both ways. She developed a reputation as a handy, fast, and commodious vessel, averaging 17 days each way on her voyages.

In 1907, the Associated Oil Company (later Tidewater Oil) bought Falls of Clyde and converted her to a bulk oil tanker with a capacity of 19,000 barrels (3,000 m3). Ten large steel tanks were built into her hull, and a pump room, boiler and generator fitted forward of an oil-tight bulkhead.[3] In this configuration she brought kerosene to Hawaii and returned to California with molasses for cattle feed.

Falls of Clyde

In 1927, she was sold to the General Petroleum Company, her masts cut down, and converted into a floating fuel depot in Alaska. In 1959 she was purchased by William Mitchell, who towed her to Seattle, Washington, intending to sell her to a preservation group. Mitchell's plan fell through and subsequent efforts by Karl Kortum, director of the San Francisco Maritime Museum, and Fred Klebingat, who had sailed in her as chief mate in 1915, to place her in Long Beach, California, or Los Angeles, California, were similarly disappointed.

In 1963, the bank holding the mortgage on Falls of Clyde decided to sell her to be sunk as part of a breakwater at Vancouver, British Columbia. Kortum and Klebingat aroused interest in the ship in Hawaii, and within days of the scheduled scuttling raised funds to buy the ship. At the end of October 1963, Falls of Clyde was taken under tow bound for Honolulu.

Museum ship and controversy[edit]

Falls of Clyde (detail of the prow)
Looking forward along the deck

Falls of Clyde was given to the Bishop Museum and opened to the public in 1968. In 1970 the grandson of original 19th century designer William Lithgow was engaged to assist in her restoration as a full-rigged ship. Support came from Sir William Lithgow, the shipbuilder and industrialist, whose Port Glasgow shipyard donated new steel masts, and topgallants, jib and spanker booms of Oregon pine.[3]

In 1973 the ship was entered into the National Register of Historic Places,[4] and declared a U.S. National Historic Landmark in 1989.[4][5]

The ship is now in poor condition. Causes of the deterioration of the ship are multiple. The ship has not been dry docked for a long time. Sandblasting arguably damaged the ship. Preventive maintenance was not performed, although it would have been relatively inexpensive. In fact, her long-time owner, the Bishop Museum, "has been accused of incompetence and dishonesty" for raising $600,000 to preserve the ship but then spending only about half that, and for other decisions on how the money that was spent.[6][7]

In 2008, the Bishop Museum announced plans to sink her by the end of the year unless private funds were raised for an endowment for her perpetual care.[8] In September 2008 the Bishop Museum was persuaded to transfer ownership to the non-profit group Friends of Falls of Clyde, which intends to restore her. However, many artifacts and fixtures had been given away, taken, or otherwise disappeared on the assumption that the ship was to be scuttled.[9][10] $350,000 was obtained from the Robert J. Pfeiffer Foundation, but hoped-for federal funds under the "Save America's Treasures" program or other programs did not come through.[11] In each year since 2008,[12] the Foundation has hoped to get her into drydock but has not succeeded as of 2015.[13] In June 2016 Harbors Division of the Hawaii Department of Transportation revoked the permit for her to moor at Pier 7, citing safety and security risks to port users.[14] The Foundation has challenged the Harbors Division's assessment of the ship.

Restoration and repatriation efforts[edit]

In August 2016 a group based in Glasgow, Scotland launched the Save Falls of Clyde – International (FOCI) Campaign, with a view to have her returned to Scotland where she was originally built. Initially, they answered a call for help from the charity known as the ‘Friends of the Falls of Clyde’ (FFOC) who owned and wanted to save the FOC from being scuttled by the Hawaiian Harbours Department. They quickly put together a plan to get her back to Scotland attempting to work with the Hawaiian Harbours department and building and executing a plan.[15]

Current efforts[edit]

The Hawaiian Harbors department has now filed for a "disposal" notice to the state department of historic artefacts. As the ship has been in Hawaii for over 50 years, it is now considered to be of cultural and historic importance, and the department has advised FOCI that the easiest way to take control of the Falls of Clyde is to bid as part of the "disposal" process. FOCI intends to bid, and has advised DOT harbours accordingly.

Their proposal is to remove the FOC and repurpose her in a way that protects her heritage, but also offers a future that will support the marine environment and serve future generations of communities around the world. It appears that the state department for historic artefacts as well as the United States Coast Guard (USCG) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are not happy that "disposal" is the only course of action. The coast guard has the final sign off on the entire process and the understanding is that they are not happy for an unnecessary and dangerous step to be taken when there is an option to remove her safely on the table.

The biggest fear is that the ship may sink in the narrow channel entrance or just outside the harbour; blocking Honolulu harbour for at least 6–12 months while a salvage operation takes place.

FOCI have also been working with the support of the U.S. National Historic Maritime Society, seeking support from the National Park Service for their plans to repatriate her to Scotland. The ship is a registered National Historic Landmark. In Honolulu, Foss Marine, The Honolulu Pilots Association and others are offering their services and staff to support the operation.

FOCI currently have an agreement in place with another lift ship company (Roll Dock) to take the FOC home in June 2020. However, due to the coronavirus outbreak, this is unlikely and the job has been pushed back to September 2020.

In Scotland they have been, and are currently in, discussions with Inverclyde Council, Scotgov, Peel Ports, Strathclyde University, Caledonian University, Clyde Marine, Malin Group, Cleanships, Scottish Maritime Museum, Historic Environment Scotland, A.B.P., Glasgow Chambers of Commerce, North Ayrshire Council, Radio Clyde, The Clutha Trust, Crossroads and other groups to prepare for her arrival on the Clyde.

Uses in popular culture[edit]

  • The ship appears as a filming location in Magnum, P.I., Season 2, Episodes 5 and 6, "Memories are Forever" (November 5, 1981)[16] and Season 6, Episode 10, "Blood and Honor" (November 21, 1985).[17]


  1. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. July 9, 2010.
  2. ^ "The Falls of Clyde didn't sell at auction. Now what?". Hawaii News Now. Retrieved 2020-05-14.
  3. ^ a b c Carter, Robert (September 2008). "Notes on a Picture: Falls of Clyde". Australian Sea Heritage. Sydney, Australia: Sydney Maritime Museum Ltd (93/94): 59–61.
  4. ^ a b "Falls of Clyde (Sailing Oil Tanker)". National Historic Landmark summary listing. National Park Service. Archived from the original on 2007-03-01. Retrieved 2008-06-20.
  5. ^ Delgado, James P. (15 July 1988). "National Historic Landmark Nomination: Falls of Clyde" (pdf). National Park Service. Retrieved 2009-06-22. and
    "Accompanying photos, exterior and interior, from 1986, 1988 and undated" (pdf). Retrieved 2012-08-31.
  6. ^ Pala, Christopher (18 October 2008). "Historic Ship Stays Afloat, for Now". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-10-19.
  7. ^ Pala, Christopher (24 September 2008). "Title unknown". Honolulu Weekly.
  8. ^ Hall, Sabrina (22 February 2008). "Falls of Clyde May Have Sinking Fate". KGMB9 News Hawaii. Archived from the original on 2009-01-09. Retrieved 2013-03-02.
  9. ^ Bernardo, Rosemarie (27 September 2008). "Museum to transfer historic ship". Honolulu Star-Bulletin. Retrieved 2013-03-02.
  10. ^ Mary Vorsino (December 1, 2008). "Falls of Clyde artifacts missing". Honolulu Advertiser. Retrieved March 7, 2015.
  11. ^ Catherine Cruz (July 3, 2012). "Steel-hulled sailing tanker Falls of Clyde faces funding challenges". KITV.com. Archived from the original on April 2, 2015. Retrieved March 7, 2015.
  12. ^ "Historic 'Falls of Clyde' has sights set on dry dock". Hawaii News Noew. July 22, 2012. Retrieved March 7, 2015.
  13. ^ Evelyn Hunter (August 11, 2014). "Drydock". The Friends of Falls of Clyde website. Retrieved March 7, 2015.
  14. ^ "State 'evicts' Falls of Clyde from Honolulu Harbor, citing safety concerns". khon2. LIN Television corp. 16 June 2016. Retrieved 18 June 2016.
  15. ^ "Scottish Group Calls for Help to Save Historic Ship". The Maritime Executive. Retrieved 2020-05-14.
  16. ^ "Memories are Forever (2)". Magnum-Mania.com. Retrieved 26 March 2015.
  17. ^ "Blood and Honor". Magnum-Mania.com. Retrieved 26 March 2015.

Further reading[edit]

  • Gibbs, Jim (1987). Pacific square-riggers: pictorial history of the great windships of yesteryear. West Chester, PA: Schiffer Pub. p. 110. ISBN 0887401066. OCLC 17480667.
  • Heine, William C (1977). Historic ships of the world. New York, NY: Putnam. ISBN 0399119574. OCLC 833913258.
  • Klebingat, Fred K (1972). Falls of Clyde. Menlo Park, Calif.: Oceans Magazine Co. OCLC 224258149.

External links[edit]