By Jill Byus Radke, Historic Hawaii Foundation
After years of struggling to keep the Falls of Clyde afloat, the Bishop Museum issued a call for a new benefactor who can provide the resources necessary to save the National Historic Landmark. Should a benefactor not be located by the end of this June, the Falls will either sink at its berth or be towed and sunk.
The Falls of Clyde is the last floating fully-rigged four-masted ship in the world. Originally launched in Scotland in 1878, she arrived in Hawai‘i in 1898 as the ninth ship of Captain Matson’s original sugar fleet. She transported sugar from Hilo to the mainland until she was converted to an oil tanker in 1907. After serving as an oil tanker and being sold several times subsequently, she was saved from the scrap yard and returned to Honolulu in 1963 as a museum ship. In 1973 she was listed on the National Register of Historic Places and in 1989 she was listed as a National Landmark by the Secretary of the Interior.
Over the years, the ship’s condition deteriorated despite the efforts of champions such as Bob Krauss, Robert Pfeiffer and David Lyman and $3 million of restoration. The Falls of Clyde was listed on Historic Hawai‘i Foundation’s inaugural “Most Endangered Historic Sites” list in 2005.
The ship was closed to visitors in February 2007 and the museum hired an independent marine surveyor, Joseph W. Lombardi, who is considered one of the leading experts on marine vessels in the nation, to evaluate the condition of the ship and suggest remedies and estimated costs for needed repairs. According to Bishop Museum, Lombardi’s 195-page report found that the ship had “severe deterioration of her wooden topmasts, rigging, wooden decking, exterior shell plating, hull support, framing, rudder and hull.”
According to Lombardi, the ship’s worsening condition demands immediate attention estimating upwards of $24,000,000 to restore the ship, and up to $1 million required annually for upkeep.
Merely moving the ship to make the repairs is problematic and expensive. The fragile hull is likely to collapse without the water’s physical support, so an estimated is $1 million is needed to stabilize the hull in order to survive removal from the water.
“We are saddened by the unfortunate condition of the Falls of Clyde and we will, over the next few months, be determining the best course of action,” said Timothy E. Johns, President and CEO said in his March 19, 2008 letter to Bishop Museum supporters.
“The Falls of Clyde is an important part of Hawai‘i’s maritime history, and we intend to do what we can to preserve this rich artifact. At the same time, we must also be prudent about preserving the fiscal health of Bishop Museum. As you may know, the entire annual budget for Bishop Museum – covering all museum research programs, collections, facilities and staff- is $16 million,” Johns said.
The museum issued the call for a new benefactor in hopes that another maritime preservation organization would take ownership and responsibility for the Falls of Clyde. Over 500 letters have been sent to organizations across the globe and Bishop Museum will continue the search until later this month.
If a benefactor is not found, the ship will either sink or have to be sunk. According to Lombardi, the ship sinking at its current berth is a “very real possibility.”
Blair Collis, Vice President of Operations at Bishop Museum noted that while the museum works to find another owner or supporter for the ship, it will engage in several near-term actions, which are required for either taking the ship to dry dock for repairs or for ultimate disposal. He said that topspar on the third mast will be removed and stored on the deck for safety. Loose items and artifacts will be removed and stored. Photo documentation of the ship will be done at every stage.
For more information, or to offer assistance, please contact Blair Collis at Bishop Museum, at (808) 371-5639.