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The Falls of Clyde was built in 1878 by Russell and Company in Port Glasgow, Inverclyde, Scotland, launched as the first of nine iron-hulled four-masted ships for Wright and Breakenridge's Falls Line.[1] She was named after the Falls of Clyde, a group of waterfalls on the River Clyde, and built to the highest standard for general worldwide trade, Lloyd's Register A-1. Her maiden voyage took her to Karachi, now in Pakistan, and her first six years were spent engaged in the India trade. She then became a tramp pursuing general cargo such as lumber, jute, cement, and wheat from ports in Australia, California, India, New Zealand, and the British Isles.

After twenty-one years as a British merchantmen, Falls of Clyde was purchased for US$25,000 by Captain William Matson of the Matson Navigation Company, taken to Honolulu in 1899, and registered under the Hawaiian flag. When the Republic of Hawaii was annexed by the United States in 1900, it took a special act of the United States Congress to secure the foreign-built ship the right to sail as an American flag vessel.

To economize on crew, Matson rigged Falls of Clyde down as a barque, replacing the five yards on her (jigger) mast with two more easily-managed fore-and-aft sails. At the same time, he added a deckhouse, charthouse, and rearranged the after quarters to accommodate paying passengers. From 1899 to 1907, she made over sixty voyages between Hilo, Hawaii, and San Francisco, California, carrying general merchandise west, sugar east, and passengers both ways. She developed a reputation as a handy, fast, and commodious vessel, averaging 17 days each way on her voyages.

In 1907, the Associated Oil Company (later Tidewater Oil) bought Falls of Clyde and converted her to a bulk oil tanker with a capacity of 19,000 barrels (3,000 m3). Ten large steel tanks were built into her hull, and a pump room, boiler and generator fitted forward of an oil-tight bulkhead.[1] In this configuration she brought kerosene to Hawaii and returned to California with molasses for cattle feed.

[1][2]Falls of Clyde

In 1927, she was sold to the General Petroleum Company, her masts cut down, and converted into a floating fuel depot in Alaska. In 1959 she was purchased by William Mitchell, who towed her to Seattle, Washington, intending to sell her to a preservation group. Mitchell's plan fell through and subsequent efforts by Karl Kortum, director of the San Francisco Maritime Museum, and Fred Klebingat, who had sailed in her as chief mate in 1915, to place her in Long Beach, California, or Los Angeles, California, were similarly disappointed.

In 1963, the bank holding the mortgage on Falls of Clyde decided to sell her to be sunk as part of a breakwater at Vancouver, British Columbia. Kortum and Klebingat aroused interest in the ship in Hawaii, and within days of the scheduled scuttling raised funds to buy the ship. At the end of October 1963, Falls of Clyde was taken under tow bound for Honolulu.

Museum ship and controversy[edit]Edit

[3][4]The Falls of Clyde (detail of the prow)[5][6]Looking forward along the deck

Falls of Clyde was given to the Bishop Museum and opened to the public in 1968. In 1970 the grandson of original 19th century designer William Lithgow was engaged to assist in her restoration as a full-rigged ship. Support came fromSir William Lithgow, the shipbuilder and industrialist, whose Port Glasgow shipyard donated new steel masts, and topgallants, jib and spanker booms of Oregon pine.[1]

In 1973 the ship was entered into the National Register of Historic Places,[2] and declared a U.S. National Historic Landmark in 1989.[2][3]

The ship is now in poor condition. Causes of the deterioration of the ship are multiple. The ship has not been dry docked for a long time. Sandblasting arguably damaged the ship. Preventive maintenance was not performed, although it would have been relatively inexpensive. In fact, her long-time owner, the Bishop Museum, "has been accused of incompetence and dishonesty" for raising $600,000 to preserve the ship but then spending only about half that, and for other decisions on how the money that was spent.[4][5]

In 2008, the Bishop Museum announced plans to sink her by the end of the year unless private funds were raised for an endowment for her perpetual care.[6] As of September 28, 2008, ownership has been transferred to the non-profit group Friends of Falls of Clyde, which intends to restore her.[7]

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