Thursday, December 21, 2017

I Saw Three Ships

-- Eleanor Boba

The sea connects us all.

A few weeks ago I headed out to Hawaii to explore the connections between Puget Sound and those islands. It is quite easy to find ships that have touched the shores of both. Today I am writing about three vessels from three very different eras and with three different propulsion systems. Each is currently home-berthed at Oahu and each has associations with our own neck of the water.

Falls of Clyde: Relic of the Age of Sail

The Falls of Clyde is a venerable sailing ship, one of the last of the iron-hulled tall ships that carried cargo around the world from the 19th through the 20th centuries. Like the three-masted ship Balclutha, the pride of San Francico's Hyde Street Pier, she was launched from Glasgow, Scotland. A four-masted, full rigged ship, the Falls of Clyde was an impressive sight in her day. Today she languishes in Honolulu Harbor, awaiting a nebulous fate.

Painting by Robert Carter, Image courtesy of Save Falls of Clyde - International.

Falls of Clyde was launched in Scotland in 1878, a decade before Balclutha. Following decades of service in the cargo trades, and another career as a petroleum depot in Ketchikan, Alaska, Falls of Clyde wound up as a mastless hulk in Lake Washington waiting for a new owner. There was talk of using the ship as a breakwater in British Columbia, the fate of a number of sailing ships, including the St. Paul and Forest Friend. At last a home was found for her in Honolulu, one of her many ports of call in her heyday. Late in 1963 the old ship was towed out through the Lake Washington Ship Canal and out to sea. The Navy tug Moctoba took her all the way to Oahu. She arrived in Honolulu on November 17 to a shower of flowers from a helicopter.

The Falls of Clyde is towed through the large locks at Ballard in 1963 on her way to a new berth as a museum ship in Hawaii. Photo courtesy of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Seattle Division.

The old windjammer enjoyed a number of years as a tourist attraction in Honolulu (and was even featured in a couple of episodes of Magnum P.I!) Unfortunately she fell victim to the all-too-common hazards of financing and deferred maintenance. By 2008 she was closed to visitors.

No longer a welcome presence where she sits surrounded by colorful fish, the Falls of Clyde awaits her fate. For years her advocates have strategized a way to keep her from the ocean floor. At this writing, the organizations Friends of the Falls of Clyde and Save Falls of Clyde - International have a plan to transport the ship back to her home country of Scotland next summer to be restored. If all goes well, she will enter drydock at Troon on the Firth of Clyde.

The Falls of Clyde in Honolulu, at the old "royal pier" adjacent to Aloha Tower, 2017. A maritime museum on the pier, seen behind the ship, closed in 2009. At this writing, nautical artifacts from the museum are being removed to storage in the care of the Bishop Museum. Photo, Alan Humphrey.

Detail of the bow and part of the bowsprit of the ship.  A thistle, the national flower of Scotland, is shown prominently. Photo, Alan Humphrey.

The USS Missouri: The Last Battleship...?

The battleship Missouri has no critical tie to the Hawaiian Islands. She was towed to Pearl Harbor in 1998 to join an eclectic group of marine museums run by the National Park Service, including the sunken USS Arizona and its iconic memorial and the submarine Bowfin. Since early 1999 Mighty Mo has been open to visitors; to date over seven million folks have toured the ship in her new home.

Although the Missouri did not launch until 1944, well after the attack on Pearl Harbor, she did play a  combat role in the war. Her most notable claim to fame is having served as the site of the formal Japanese surrender to Allied Forces. That event took place in Tokyo Bay on September 2, 1945. It is considered the official end of World War II.

The USS Missouri, BB-63, dated after its 1986 reconstruction and recommissioning. 
From the collection of Puget Sound Maritime Historical Society.

The Missouri also had a long-association with Puget Sound. More than half her life was spent at Bremerton's Puget Sound Naval Shipyard as part of the Navy's "mothball fleet." Washingtonians became so accustomed to seeing the Missouri at various events and ceremonies around the sound, that when the Navy opened a bidding process to acquire the decommissioned battleship, citizens and elected officials of this state were quick to organize a drive to keep the ship here. The frustrating, contentious, and ultimately doomed effort, including claims of double-dealing by the Navy, are detailed in a HistoryLink essay by Daryl C. McClary.

Hokule'a and her sisters 

Hokule'a with her sails in the crab claw formation. Photo courtesy of Polynesian Voyaging Society

The Hokule'a occupies a strange place in maritime history: both modern and very ancient. The double-hulled voyager canoe, powered only by sail and oar, and using ancient wayfinding navigation, is a recreations of the ancient vessels that brought Polynesians to Hawaii and elsewhere sometime in the first millennium A.D. First launched with a big splash in 1976, Hokule'a gained new fame and relevance in the age of social media. Her three-year good will tour circumnavigated the globe, 2014-2017, and included a meet-up with the Draken Harald Harfagre, a recreation of a Viking ship, on the Erie Canal!


The just-concluded World Tour did not include a stop on our West Coast. However, two decades ago, a goodwill tour brought Hokule'a and her sister ship, Hawai'iloa to our shores. The vessels were transported to Seattle by Matson Lines and first welcomed at Golden Gardens at the end of May, 1995. For the next few months, the canoes, together and separately, visited a number of ports of call from Alaska to San Diego. In the Northwest the vessels were seen at the Center for Wooden Boats, the Suquamish Reservation on Bainbridge Island, Neah Bay, Bellingham, Tacoma and Vancouver. Hokule'a participated in National Maritime Week festivities on the Seattle Waterfront during the third week of May.

An important part of the mission of Hokule'a is to make contact with indigenous populations around the globe. Hawai'iloa had a special mission in the Northwest -- to thank the Native Alaskan tribes that had provided two massive Sitka spruce logs to form the hulls of the vessel. Unlike Hokule'a, which used some modern materials in construction such as fiberglass and plywood, Hawai'iloa was  to be built with only indigenous materials. Unfortunately, by the 1990s logging had taken a toll on the stands of koa, the famous hardwood, in Hawaii. In desperation, the builders turned to friends in Alaska and found sympathetic ears among the Tlinget, Haida, and Tsimshian peoples who managed a large wilderness area. With the gift of the trees, freshly-cut for the purpose, Hawai'iloa was launched in 1993.

We caught up with Hokule'a on a gloomy day at her home berth in Oahu: the Marine Training Education Center on Sand Island. The Hikianalia, another sister ship, sits to the fore. Though not the best location for photographs, this one does show the size of the canoe relative to small sailboats. 

Aloha 'oe!

Sources include Karl House and Joe Baar, PSMHS; Saltwater People Historical Society; Polynesian Voyaging Society; Friends of the Falls of Clyde;