Falls of Clyde

One of five – Clydebuilt.

As most of our membership will be aware, there remain afloat only five Clydebuilt square riggers of which our own Glenlee is one.

The eldest of the quintet is Falls of Clyde completed during January 1879 as a 1,807 gross ton four mast iron hulled vessel, ship rigged, by Robert Russell & Co., Port Glasgow and delivered to her Glasgow owners, the Wright & Breakenridge Company’s Falls Line. Her original rig consisted of courses, lower and upper topsails, single t’gallants and royals on all masts, with the addition of three jibs for’ard and a loose footed Jigger (boomed) spanker and gaff tops’l. Stays’ls were flown as required from all four masts.  As the pioneer ship of the fleet, her maiden voyage was from Greenock to Karachi, departing to London some 8 months later. For the next 20 years she ‘tramped’ worldwide making regular calls within North and South American, Indian, Australian, New Zealand, UK and European waters. She reputedly and regularly achieved speeds reaching 15 knots without being pressed. 

She was purchased during 1899 by Captain William Matson, founder of what became during the 20th century a leading trans Pacific passenger line, to become the first four masted vessel to fly the Hawaiian flag. With Hawaii’s 1900 annexation by the USA, Falls of Clyde, then cut down to a barque and fitted with passenger accommodation, operated the liner trade between California and the Hawaiian Islands under the Stars and Stripes carrying general cargo and supplies westbound and for the return voyage usually bagged sugar to Californian ports.

During 1907 she was acquired by the General Petroleum Corporation of San Francisco for operations on the Pacific initially carrying cased kerosene from the USA to East Asian ports but later converted to a bulk oil tanker serving both the Hawaiian Islands and continued trans Pacific trading. Following WWI, she sailed to Denmark from where she undertook her last commercial voyage under sail to Brazil. During 1925 she was converted at Los Angeles to an oil storage barge, for use at Ketchikan, Alaska, but later towed to Seattle.

During 1963 the mortgage holder for the vessel made the decision to sell her to be sunk as a breakwater at Vancouver. She was given a last minute reprieve when repurchased and transferred to Honolulu for prospective use as an exhibit. Restoration was undertaken from 1968 under the auspices of the Bernice P. Bishop Museum with the help of the grandson of


Sir William Lithgow who had been a close associate of the vessel’s builder, through donation of masts, spars and other fittings. Upon completion of the task she was positioned at the Hawaii Maritime Centre, Honolulu and opened to the public.

During 1989 Falls of Clyde was designated a U.S. National Historic Landmark by virtue of her status as the last remaining sailing oil tanker in the World and almost twenty years later declared by the Hawaiian State Legislature to be “an historic symbol of Hawai’i, always to be treasured and protected by the State of Hawai’i and its residents.”

Regrettably Falls of Clyde, in rapidly deteriorating condition through an almost total lack of maintenance, related inspections and procedures and requisite drydocking, was perceived as unsafe and with masts cut down and of significant concern to the port authorities, becoming an eyesore and the subject of scorn on the part of the Oahu Island Community. Contrary to due process where the owner of a National Historic Landmark cannot undertake destruction without reference to the appropriate administration, it would appear that (incredibly), the owner’ decision was to have the vessel removed from Honolulu Harbour, towed out to sea and scuttled. The prospect of such action triggered the establishment and formation of the nonprofit making community group entitled Friends of Falls of Clyde Inc. to assume ownership and stewardship of the vessel. Following formation, this organisation’s leaders negotiated transfer of ownership under contract and which was executed with due ceremony during 30th September 2008.

Whilst plans, buoyed by the prospect of provision of a privately donated maintenance fund for the ship, were formulated to undertake drydocking for the purposes of technical and structural assessment, overhead costs including insurance were being accumulated and which in the event absorbed a proportion of the maintenance fund. Meanwhile the Port Authorities granted FFOC a revocable berth permit gratis for the ship at her Pier 7 harbour berth.

A 30 year strategic plan for staged restoration and repair was drawn up beginning with a safety and structural integrity analysis. Over the next couple of years inspectors with experience of iron structures and historic ships were engaged with a view to secure bids from a shipyard for the now much needed drydock. During 2013, FFOC secured the services of a naval architect and salvage firm to create a workscope to be accomplished in drydock. The 


resulting survey declared the ship to be structurally sound and strong enough to undertake a drydocking procedure. Meanwhile a relationship was established with the local shipyard thus obviating the need for the ship to undertake a potentially hazardous sea passage for drydocking. Such shipyard negotiations undertaken by both naval architect and the Salvage firm acting for FFOC took several months all with a view to ultimately secure an agreed workscope and cost estimate for the purposes of creating a financial target for fundraising. This process took until mid 2014, but without having secured finance terms with the shipyard. Without money in the bank, the shipyard would not accept the ship for drydocking, committing only to such action when the monies were to become available.

Whilst fundraising had hitherto not been of prime focus due to the existence of its maintenance fund, a professional fundraiser had been engaged to assist with the formulation of basic plans. Several minor fundraising events were mounted, resulting however in poor financial returns and lacklustre attendance.

Funding applications to the National Maritime Heritage Grant from the National Park Service and some two years later when federal funding was reinstated, were duly made but without success. A 2015 application for a Legislative Grant-in-Aid was submitted but was deemed too high to achieve funding approval. A resubmission for a more reasonable sum is planned for this 2016. In the meantime, several minor funding campaigns have proved disappointing returning only a few thousand dollars.

In the words of FFOC however, a dark and foreboding shadow is now cast by the port authorities (The Department of Transportation Harbors Division). Whilst between 2008 and 2014 FFOC enjoyed a good working relationship with the port’s deputy directors reflecting what might be termed ‘a positive spin’ regarding the future for Falls of Clyde. During 2014 a meeting held with interim administrative Port personnel revealed concerns on their part that the vessel had still not been drydocked. With the appointment of a new Harbours Deputy Director it was to become evident that the authorities now had little understanding of the procedures required to preserve an historic ship and demonstrating little regard for the efforts being undertaken by FFOC to secure the vessel’s future.

Whilst FFOC appears to enjoy the moral support of the public, it is evident that neither institutional nor individuals’ financial support is forthcoming. 


Meanwhile it is my understanding that a figurative ‘Sword of Damocles’ may now be hovering over FFOC as it has been informed by the Harbor Administration that definitive plans including finance should be in place by December 2016, at which time the vessel’s future tenure at Honolulu will be determined. Indeed a sorry and pitiable state of affairs!

Referring to the title of this article, it is my belief that application of five “M’s” – Maintenance (& repair), Money (revenue or funding) , Men (staff and volunteers), Management (all disciplines) and Market (our lifeblood) are prerequisites to the continued existence of a project such as ours. Maintenance however must surely be the imperative in the process, for without it, the others are folly. In my own seafaring experience of some decades ago, I voyaged twice to Australia in one of the only two non refrigerated cargo vessels of our fleet of 45 ships. This resulted at best in the partial annual employment of two rotations per vessel to such waters, invariably calling for a somewhat lengthy period of layup for each. Significantly, both vessels were in the worst state of repair by far of any unit in the fleet and clearly a consequence of neglect, the lack of ongoing and continuous maintenance. Layup –  a veritable ‘ship killer’ with a direct read across to any vessel whether iconic, unheralded, historic, restored or otherwise, left to the vagaries of age, weather and neglect. (Any reader who has had the good fortune to visit Dubai of late may have observed, even from afar, the quite appalling condition “QE2”, now seemingly neglected and unloved by her owners)  

It is with regret that I can now report that on the 17th June 2016, th Honolulu Harbour Administration served an eviction notice on the Trustees of the Friends  of Falls of Clyde calling the vessels removal from her hearth within 30 days on the grounds of her being a safety hazard and that o harbour revenues are derived from the vessels presence. Failure to effect such removal, the Administration states, may result in her being impounded, or other legal action taken. 

In the meantime the, the Friends of Falls of Clyde organisation states that it has secured US$145,000 in voluntary funding contributions – in the event – barely 10% of what would be required to undertake the necessary safety related dry-docking inspection and audit. 

The purpose of this article was describe the plight and now deep jeopardy of this member of our “one in five” – the details of which might just serve also as a reminder of our individual and collective roles and responsibilities , moral or otherwise, for the continued existence of our own beloved Glenlee 

                                                                                                      Alan W.Blackwood – June 2016

June 2021 update 

Save Falls of Clyde International submitted a competent, technical proposal backed by their partners, from the offshore sector here in Scotland. It protected the environment and preserves our shared heritage yet meets USCG & EPA concerns, has been rejected by the DOT, reason given is that they don’t accept unsolicited offer’s