July 27--The Falls of Clyde sits alone in its berth, forlorn and rusty, next to the now-shuttered Hawaii Maritime Center at Honolulu Harbor's Pier 7.
This fading, 266-foot-long beauty from Scotland is a national historical landmark -- the only surviving iron-hulled, four-masted ship and sail-driven oil tanker in the world.
In its glory days the Falls of Clyde served Matson's fleet and sailed the world. In retirement at Honolulu Harbor, it became a museum and hosted weddings, funerals, parties, military re-enlistment ceremonies and even a dramatic re-enactment of the Boston Tea Party. The ship survived two attempts to sink it.
The nonprofit Friends of the Falls of Clyde has launched a $3 million fundraising campaign to get the 135-year-old ship dry-docked so its hull can be repaired and repainted.
"From a worldwide perspective she's a really important artifact," said Friends President Bruce McEwan. "She fills the gap in history between the Hokule'a as an example of an early sailing vessel and the modern ships we see at Honolulu Harbor today. We believe the Falls is a perfect example of that time period where sailing ships were the primary mode of transportation for maritime commerce."
It took more than a year of consultations with naval architects and engineers to determine the vessel could be dry-docked at Pacific Shipyards International at Pier 41, so the next few months are crucial in getting the task accomplished.
Millions more are needed for further restoration efforts.
"A ship is like a building and needs a strong foundation, and that's the hull," said McEwan. "It's the hull preservation and strengthening that needs to be done first."
Jeanette Ainlay, a docent for the Falls of Clyde from 1968 to 2007, remembers the historic ship as a hub of activity when its brass-and-mahogany fittings still shined. The ship was the heart of the Scottish community in Hawaii, a major draw for the maritime center (which shuttered its doors five years ago) and a venue for numerous parties.
Hundreds of schoolchildren, from kindergarten to high school, took field trips aboard the Falls for a firsthand lesson in history.
Ainlay, 80, loved giving students the tours, taking them from the captain's quarters to the poop deck above, as well as the foredeck, sharing stories and sea shanties along the way.
"She was busy," said Ainlay. "Every day you came down here, there was something going on. She was a very useful part of the community."
Kumu hula Stanette Nu'uhiwa, who used to work on the Ali'i Kai Catamaran, remembers escorting hundreds of guests to the Falls of Clyde for private cocktail parties, complete with hula and Hawaiian music.
"These guests came from all over the world and were amazed to have the opportunity to step on board Falls of Clyde, even for a short period of time," she said.
The ship was almost scrapped for good, twice.
The late Honolulu Advertiser columnist Bob Krauss, who died in 2006, saved it the first time when it was about to be scuttled off Vancouver Island by an oil company in the '60s. He wrote about the vessel in his columns (and eventually a book titled "Falls of Clyde: 324 Voyages Under Sail") and helped bring it back to Honolulu. Appropriately, his funeral was held on the ship he loved so dearly.
The Friends stepped in the second time when then-owner Bishop Museum was about to scuttle it. The group took ownership of the vessel and has a long-term goal of repairing the Falls of Clyde so it can once again be open to the public for events to help fund her maintenance and upkeep.
"If we lose her, we will lose a precious piece of history," said Ainlay. "After all that she's been through, she deserves to be saved."
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