length on deck 152'
length overall 205'
Hull Material Iron
gross tonnage 411 Tons
draft 10' 6"
Sails 19 sails - 12,000 sq.
Standing 2.5 miles of wire rope
Running 174 lines @ 4.5 miles
I became director of 1877 barque ELISSA and the Texas Seaport Museum on October 1, 2010 after serving as
master rigger and historic ships rigging supervisor at San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park. During my
ELISSA’s hull and decking in 2012-13 as a result of damage form Hurricane Ike. ELISSA will sail again
ELISSA is a special sailing ship with her Victorian pedigree and Scottish soul. There is a story in every rivet and
music in each strand of her rigging. I enjoyed listening to her song during my watch as her director and now as an
FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 2, 2011
ELISSA ~ a French curve in iron and sweat
Imagine that this is a cool and brisk fall day along the east coast of Scotland on October 27,
1877. We are standing in front of hull number 294 looking up at the graceful Aberdeen bow
and filigree of wires that make up this small barque’s head rigging. Just a few weeks before,
this slipway was awash in the sounds of the riveter’s hammer and caulker’s mallet; of riggers
hailing from aloft and painters applying their craft to this graceful hull. To one side of this
scene stands a man…Henry Fowler Watt….. oblivious to the din and fixing in his mind’s eye
this hull…his hull, cleaving through the waters of the Atlantic making a fast passage around the
Cape and onwards toward the Spice islands and India. He watches as these sorcerers, these
magicians under the guise of shipfitters convert flat plates of iron into the pleasing shapes of a
graceful hull…a French curve in iron and sweat.
It starts as a small trembler, barely discernible above the din of a working shipyard, but
slowly…ever so slowly hull no. 294 begins her long journey to us, her penultimate crew. The
penultimate crew - for if we bestow our sweat, love and talents to ELISSA…there will always
be a next crew. Excitement and whiskey is in the air as the graceful hull slowly at first but
gaining momentum, glides into her element. ELISSA is launched. Today, we can almost recall
the spicy scent of freshly cut teak; of the rigger’s ballet of swaying aloft finely fashioned spars
and freshly tarred rigging being turned in round beautiful lignum vitae deadeyes. In our mind’s
eye and sailor’s soul we can sail back in time to stand alongside Henry Fowler Watt and
marvel in reverent appreciation at the birth of this graceful ship, the Aberdeen built barque
We can sit atop a mooring bitt and marvel that this piece of living sculpture from the Victorian
age has been passed down through many hands and hearts to us… to look after…to love…to
restore again to her seagoing shape and form. The original restoration of ELISSA was a fine
beginning, and nurtured the craft and skills the ship needs for her continued well being. Those
skills are now entrusted to us to utilize to our fullest extent and to pass along to the next
generation of caretakers. We have the duty to add our efforts to this continuum of
excellence…ELISSA’s tradition of craftsmanship that began with Henry Fowler Watt’s
insistence on having his ship, our ship, built not to the standard Lloyd's 100 A1 level of quality
but to Lloyd's Special survey.
Being built to Lloyd’s Special survey meant ELISSA was crafted to a level of quality above
expediency and resulted in ELISSA being built to a level far above the standard 100A1
classification.. We have a wonderful opportunity to add our talents and spirits into the
collective crew of the ELISSA. We are joining with that first riveter who drove in the first of
many rivets that still hold us all and our ship together.
As we get ready to begin another year’s sail training, let’s remember from time to time that
cool October so many years ago… and join in helping to keep alive a ship so dear to us all. I
came across an article that is not as sensational as the Chronicle piece from several weeks back
– it is a more factual and even telling of the challenges we face and will accomplish with
everyone’s help. Historic tall ship Elissa needs help
Full and bye,
Leave her Johnny, leave her…
Since I saw my first foam flecked bow wave, ships have drawn me into the servitude of their service. At the beginning of my square-rigged
odyssey, I knew nothing of the beauty of a ship under full sail in the SE Trades with the bow cutting the South Seas into radiant gems fit for
Neptune’s bride or the silent enchantment of a sunset at sea with the hope of a brief but rewarding glimpse of the green flash. I do now.
Today, Friday April 15th, is my final day as director of the 1877 iron barque ELISSA and as I write this, the crew is making ready for sea and
the penultimate day sail of the 2016 series. I have stolen several subtle glances and quick memories of my final days as director and they lay
safely stowed in my sea bag of square-rigged memories. In two weeks, I will be leading another great crew of riggers and sailors as master rigger
on the Wavertree restoration in New York.
The stewardship of an historic vessel requires unceasing effort, constant vigilance, and unyielding loyalty. ELISSA’s volunteers embody this and
as long as Galveston Historical Foundation embraces this concept ELISSA will sail on into our shared future. And what a future - for what more
exquisite marriage of beauty and function than a barque in a quartering breeze!
Without volunteers, ELISSA would not be able to sail and cast her magic into this and future generations of her admirers, sailors and suitors.
From maintenance to revenue generating overnight programs to administrative work, you, the ship's company, provide vital assistance to the
staff of Texas Seaport Museum in helping to keep ELISSA sailing. The critical and manifest importance of volunteers is a characteristic of
ELISSA and the larger historic ships' community as a whole. Since restoration to full working order and sailing trim over 30 years ago, ELISSA
has provided the public and her crew with unparalleled heritage maritime experiences through sea-going daysails off the waters of Galveston and
along the Gulf Coast. ELISSA has left a long wake since her restoration and it is her crew, her volunteers and supporters who have breathed life
into her sails and brought her decks alive with the seaman's cry of "mainsail haul".
Ships are expensive…without you, our volunteers, ELISSA would be but a rust stained memory upon a beach in Piraeus, Greece. Historic
buildings leave foundations and other evidence of their existence, while ships leave only bubbles and a fading wake to tell of their existence.
Thanks to the efforts, struggles and determination of you and previous and future volunteers, ELISSA still leaves a wake and will continue to do
so as long as we answer her call.
Often non-profit organizations have the illusion that volunteers are a "free resource" - I know how valuable an asset you are and always strove to
do my best in keeping the good of the ship and gratitude for your efforts foremost in my mind. You are the life that flows through every stand of
wire, every fiber of cordage aboard ELISSA…and magic spark of a waterborne dream. Let's continue to dream and sweat together in hoisting
aloft topgallants and royals to the collective and collaborative mantra of … Keep ELISSA Sailing.
Leave her Johnny, leave her… - the refrain echoes with full purchase in the soul of this sailor who always tried to do best for his ship while
serving her these past 5 ½ years. I shall need no magic to conjure up a clear memory hailed from my berth as director of this fine ship and
gallant steadfast crew. We are heirs to a tradition whose wake stretches back to Ulysses - may the winds blow kindly upon ELISSA and her
“A ship is not a slave. You must make her easy in a sea-way, you must never forget that you owe her the fullest share of your thought, of your
skill, of your self-love. If you remember that obligation, naturally and without effort, as if it were an instinctive feeling of your inner life, she will
sail, stay, run for you as long as she is able, or, like a sea-bird going to rest upon the angry waves, she will lay out the heaviest gale that ever
made you doubt living long enough to see another sunrise.” Joseph Conrad, Mirror of the Sea.
Seaport Museum before heading off to New York and the
rig restoration of 1885 full rigged ship Wavertree