Falls of Clyde
FallsofClyde Sailing Ship.jpg
Falls of Clyde at Honolulu Harbor
United States
NameFalls of Clyde
BuilderRussell and Company in Port Glasgow, Inverclyde, Scotland
HomeportHonolulu, Hawaii
IdentificationIMO number8640313
StatusMuseum ship
General characteristics
Tonnage1807 gross; 1741 net
Masts: 4
Configuration: Fully rigged ship
Figurehead: Maiden
Length280 ft (85.3 m)
Beam40 ft (12.2 m)
Draft21 ft (6.4 m)
Falls of Clyde (Four-masted Oil Tanker)
Falls of Clyde (ship) is located in Oahu
Falls of Clyde (ship)
Falls of Clyde (ship) is located in Hawaii
Falls of Clyde (ship)
LocationPier 7, Honolulu Harbor, Honolulu, Hawaii
Coordinates21°18′20.5″N 157°51′54″W / 21.305694°N 157.86500°W / 21.305694; -157.86500Coordinates: 21°18′20.5″N 157°51′54″W / 21.305694°N 157.86500°W / 21.305694; -157.86500
ArchitectWilliam Lithgow
NRHP reference No.73000659[1]
Significant dates
Added to NRHPJuly 2, 1973
Designated NHLApril 11, 1989

Falls of Clyde is the last surviving iron-hulled, four-masted full-rigged ship, and the only remaining sail-driven oil tanker. Designated a U.S. National Historic Landmark in 1989, she is now a museum ship in Honolulu, but her condition has deteriorated. She is currently not open to the public. In September 2008, ownership was transferred to a new nonprofit organization, the Friends of Falls of Clyde. Efforts to raise $1.5 million to get the ship into drydock did not succeed. On February 7, 2019 the Hawaii Department of Transportation (HDOT) put the ship up for auction.[2] In November 2021 HDOT accepted a bid from Save Falls of Clyde – International (FOCI) to transport the ship to Scotland for restoration.


Falls of Clyde was built in 1878 by Russell and Company in Port Glasgow, Inverclyde, Scotland. She was launched as the first of nine iron-hulled four-masted ships for Wright and Breakenridge's Falls Line.[3] 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 merchantman, 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.[3] In this configuration she brought kerosene to Hawaii and returned to California with molasses for cattle feed.

Falls of Clyde
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.

As a museum ship

Falls of Clyde (detail of the prow)
Falls of Clyde (detail of the prow)
Looking forward along the deck
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 from Sir William Lithgow, the shipbuilder and industrialist, whose Port Glasgow shipyard donated new steel masts, and topgallants, jib and spanker booms of Oregon pine.[3]

In 1973 the ship was entered into the National Register of Historic Places,[4] and declared a U.S. National Historic Landmark in 1989.[4][5]

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. 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.[6][7]

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.[8] In September 2008 the Bishop Museum was persuaded to transfer ownership to the non-profit group Friends of Falls of Clyde, which intended to restore her. Many artifacts and fixtures had previously been given away, taken, or otherwise disappeared on the assumption that the ship was to be scuttled.[9][10] $350,000 was obtained from the Robert J. Pfeiffer Foundation, but hoped-for federal funds under the "Save America's Treasures" program or other programs did not come through.[11] Each year,[12] the Foundation hoped to get her into drydock but did not succeeded.[13] In June 2016 Harbors Division of the Hawaii Department of Transportation (HDOT) revoked the permit for her to moor at Pier 7, citing safety and security risks to port users.[14]

Restoration and repatriation efforts

In August 2016 a group based in Glasgow, Scotland launched the Save Falls of Clyde – International (FOCI) Campaign, with a view to have her returned to Scotland where she was originally built. Initially, they answered a call for help from the charity known as the ‘Friends of the Falls of Clyde’ (FFOC) who owned and wanted to save the FOC from being scuttled by the Hawaiian Harbours Department. They put together a plan to get her back to Scotland attempting to work with the Hawaiian Harbours department and building and executing a plan.[15]

In July 2021 HDOT solicited bids for removal of the ship from Honolulu Harbor, and received two proposals in response. The Foundation challenged the Harbors Division's assessment of the ship, and says they never gave up ownership rights.[16]

In November 2021 HDOT accepted a bid from FOCI to transport the ship to either Greenock or Glasgow where it will be restored and returned to sea.[17]

In popular culture


  1. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 9 July 2010.
  2. ^ "The Falls of Clyde didn't sell at auction. Now what?". Hawaii News Now. Retrieved 14 May 2020.
  3. ^ a b c Carter, Robert (September 2008). "Notes on a Picture: Falls of Clyde". Australian Sea Heritage. Sydney, Australia: Sydney Maritime Museum Ltd (93/94): 59–61.
  4. ^ a b "Falls of Clyde (Sailing Oil Tanker)". National Historic Landmark summary listing. National Park Service. Archived from the original on 1 March 2007. Retrieved 20 June 2008.
  5. ^ Delgado, James P. (15 July 1988). "National Historic Landmark Nomination: Falls of Clyde" (pdf). National Park Service. Retrieved 22 June 2009. and
    "Accompanying photos, exterior and interior, from 1986, 1988 and undated" (pdf). Retrieved 31 August 2012.
  6. ^ Pala, Christopher (18 October 2008). "Historic Ship Stays Afloat, for Now". The New York Times. Retrieved 19 October 2008.
  7. ^ Pala, Christopher (24 September 2008). "Falling into place". Honolulu Weekly. Archived from the original on 26 December 2010.
  8. ^ Hall, Sabrina (22 February 2008). "Falls of Clyde May Have Sinking Fate". KGMB9 News Hawaii. Archived from the original on 9 January 2009. Retrieved 2 March 2013.
  9. ^ Bernardo, Rosemarie (27 September 2008). "Museum to transfer historic ship". Honolulu Star-Bulletin. Retrieved 2 March 2013.
  10. ^ Mary Vorsino (1 December 2008). "Falls of Clyde artifacts missing". Honolulu Advertiser. Retrieved 7 March 2015.
  11. ^ Catherine Cruz (3 July 2012). "Steel-hulled sailing tanker Falls of Clyde faces funding challenges". KITV.com. Archived from the original on 2 April 2015. Retrieved 7 March 2015.
  12. ^ "Historic 'Falls of Clyde' has sights set on dry dock". Hawaii News Noew. 22 July 2012. Retrieved 7 March 2015.
  13. ^ Evelyn Hunter (11 August 2014). "Drydock". The Friends of Falls of Clyde website. Retrieved 7 March 2015.
  14. ^ "State 'evicts' Falls of Clyde from Honolulu Harbor, citing safety concerns". khon2. LIN Television corp. 16 June 2016. Retrieved 18 June 2016.
  15. ^ "Scottish Group Calls for Help to Save Historic Ship". The Maritime Executive. Retrieved 14 May 2020.
  16. ^ Nina Wu (3 August 2021). "State received 2 proposals in bid for removal of the Falls of Clyde from Honolulu Harbor". Honolulu Star-Advertiser.
  17. ^ Ross Crae (21 November 2021). "Falls of Clyde: 143-year-old tall ship to finally return home for a new eco-friendly future". The Sunday Post.
  18. ^ "Memories are Forever (2)". Magnum-Mania.com. Retrieved 26 March 2015.
  19. ^ "Blood and Honor". Magnum-Mania.com. Retrieved 26 March 2015.

Further reading