Friday, April 26, 2013


Or rather, meet The ELISSA.

When we heard there was a tall ship docked at Pier 21 in Galveston, we had to visit it. Even when docked, these ships are magnificent; when under full sail, they take your breath away.

The ELISSA is a three-masted, iron-hulled sailing ship built in 1877 in Aberdeen, Scotland by Alexander Hall & Company. She carries nineteen sails covering over one-quarter of an acre in surface area. Tall ships are classified by the configuration of their sailing rig. For the knowledgeable admirer, ELISSA is a 'barque' because she carries square and fore-and-aft sails on her fore and mainmasts, but only fore-and-aft sails on her mizzenmast. From her stern to the tip of her jibboom, she measures 205 feet. Her height is 99 feet, 9 inches at the main mast.

For the simple admirer, she is a beauty.

Unlike some tall ships of today Elissa is not a replica, but a survivor. She was built during the decline of the "Age of Sail" to fill a niche in maritime commerce. Over her 90-year commercial history she carried a variety of cargoes to ports around the world, for a succession of owners. Her working life as a freighter came to an end in Piraeus Harbor, Greece, where she was rescued from the scrap yard by a variety of ship preservationists who refused to let her die.

Walking around the deck, we could imagine the skilled crew working the ropes with machine-like efficiency.

But it was when looking up that we imagined the courage that sailors displayed as they nimbly maneuvered their way up the rope ladders to the positions on the masts.

Even today, about sixty-five percent of ELISSA is still original--a remarkable feat for a ship 135 years old. This portion of the deck was one of the areas under repair over the past few months.

In an interview with Jack Williams, Jamie White, Director of the Seaport Museum, provides some additional background: "You know, she started off as this incredibly beautiful three-masted barque and she ended up her days smuggling cigarettes, a smuggler, literally a pirate ship between Yugoslavia and Italy. You know, they took all of her masts down and they changed the bow a little bit, but it was still the ship. It was still Elissa trying to make a living. As far as we can ascertain, she is the longest-lived, most active vessel on the face of the world."

White continued, "She's riveted wrought iron. Most of the ships you see today, in fact all the ships almost, are modern alloys, steel, aluminum, etc.. ELISSA is one of only a handful of iron sailing ships left in the world and one of only three still sailing" (

And sailing as the Official Tall Ship of Texas.

And by the way, I would prefer booking passage on The ELISSA rather than the cruise ship in the background.

We stopped to look at the markings on a pillar on Pier 21 before leaving. Water levels from five hurricanes are marked (from top to bottom):

September 8, 1900

September 13, 2008

August 16, 1915

September 14, 1919

September 11, 1961

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