Monday, January 23, 2012

Ships: Tragic Queen

In the epic Greek poem The Aeneid, Queen Dido of Carthage is the tragic love of the hero Aeneas’ life. Dido’s name in Greek was Elissa and today’s focus is on the ship that shares her name, as well as an equally heart wrenching tragedy.

Elissa is a 620 ton three-masted barque who currently calls the port of Galveston in Texas home. She was built in Aberdeen, Scotland and launched in October of 1877, a fact that started out with sad potential. The beautiful merchant sailer was sent to sea just as steamships were coming into their own. Elissa, despite her swift running and fine lines, would never truly rule the waves.

She sailed under Scottish, Norwegian and Swedish colors until finally docking at a salvage yard in Greece where she was set for the scrappers. Through a minor miracle, she was discovered by the Galveston Historical Foundation who saw in her the type of ship that brought goods into their port from around the world. Galveston, of course, has a long history of piracy and privateering that began with Louis Aury and grew to illicit success under the mastery of the Laffite brothers. From the 1820s, Galveston became a haven for gambling and other forms a debauch; a reputation that led her to be christened “The Little Big Easy.” And throughout, ships like Elissa came and went and came back again.

The Historical Foundation purchased her for $40,000 in1975 and did extensive refitting, particularly on her iron and steel hull. Masts of Oregon pine replaced her old timbers, sails were shipped in from Maine and her teak and fir deck and gunnels were lovingly restored. She was re-launched in 1982 and has since become a National Historic Landmark. She is the “official” tall ship of Galveston and is on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.

Elissa is inspected by the Coast Guard every two and a half years for seaworthiness. Her last inspection in the summer of 2011 turned up a heartbreaking surprise. Her hull was rotten and so close to rotting through that the Coast Guard declared her unseaworthy. Since Elissa is maintained on donations by volunteers, the $3 million dollars to repair her hull is a staggering expense that is not readily obtainable out of hand. As this article from the Houston Chronicle notes, the Texas Seaport Museum immediately began fundraising. The hope is to have Elissa back in sailing form this year.

Of course, tragedy is unavoidable and is part and parcel of the long history of the sea. Triple P will keep the wish for Elissa’s full recovery close to our hearts, and keep the Brethren informed as her journey continues.

Header: Elissa by Don Scafidi via her official website


Blue Lou Logan said...

I was unaware of the Elissa's plight. A couple years back, I spent a day in Galveston while visiting my wife's family in Houston, and I made a point of seeing the Elissa (HECK, I was wearing a souvenir shirt around the house over the weekend). It was interesting to me to tour an iron-hulled tall ship, which of course was transitional from the old days of sail to the twentieth century. I found the wooden deck quite pleasant, but below it felt almost like a battleship...honestly, quite stifling.

I never would have thought about that hull as the ship's Achilles heel. On the other hand, I am watching the local Kalakala ferry (as you know) rust away to the point that she's in danger of going down in a major shipping channel. When I was in Galveston, the amount of damage that the hurricane had done to the museum proper was astounding. It never would have occurred to me that the damage of that storm would sneak up on the Alissa later. I have seen this sort of things go both ways: The HMS Surprise in San Diego lost her seaworthy status for a while and came back, while the Alyssa-like Wawona here in Seattle sat in the mud until she was dismantled.

I have hope. Sometimes, with historic ships, that's how you have to start.

Pauline said...

Thankee for adding so much to this post, Lou. I thought it was serendipitous (great minds think alike?) that we wrote about similarly endangered ships on the same day.

As you point out in your post about the dear Kalakala:

Damage can be insideous and go unnoticed until it is almost too late with an unusually bad weather event dealing a near-death blow. Also, your end point is my hope as well. We can fix these things. And those of us who care will find a way.

Timmy! said...

Ahoy, Pauline! That is really sad... as is Blue Lou's post about the Kalakala. Thanks to both of you for making people aware of these beautiful ships.

Pauline said...

Thankee, Timmy! Let us hope that things improve with regard to taking care of our seafaring history here in the U.S.

Anonymous said...

Latin poem (not Greek).
Am reading this now. In English.