Taking the Falls of Clyde Home?

Those of you who are interested in large historic sailing ships have no doubt been following what has been going on at South Street Seaport Museum. Wavertree is back from dry dock and looking splendid. (Congratulations to all involved!) Peking is being prepared for her journey back to Germany and a brighter future.

It is quite a different situation here in Hawai‘i. Time is running out for the National Historic Landmark ship, Falls of Clyde.

Lately, I have been quiet regarding the Falls of Clyde. It is not because I do not care. I have been watching and waiting to see what became of the discussions between DOT Harbors and the Friends of Falls of Clyde (FFOC). Frankly, I didn’t have much hope for the future of the ship.

I have been spending my time trying not to be angry and depressed by the whole situation and mentally preparing myself to hear bad news.

Will she be:

• Towed out and scuttled in international waters?
• Sold and broken up for scrap?
• Sunk as an artificial reef or dive site?

Nothing but sad thoughts. Until today. Today brought a glimmer of hope.

Is it possible that there is enough interest in Scotland to bring the Falls back home to the Clyde, should the FFOC’s efforts fail?

A campaign has been started to explore the possibilities, while still supporting the mission of the FFOC. The following is a Facebook post from David O’Neill, who is spearheading the effort:

This is a Glasgow and Clyde Heritage related post, I am looking for volunteers who have an interest in the Clyde Shipbuilding History, who may have skills in P.R., Media and fund raising or crowdfunding. This is a campaign to bring back and restore a Port Glasgow built ship Falls of Clyde. Built at Russell shipyard, now Ferguson Marine.

The ship is currently in Hawaii and was a museum ship up until about 8 years ago, now under threat of being sunk as an artificial reef.

Hollywood actor and Scot, Mr Brian Cox of Bourne Identity, Troy and Planet of the Apes has agreed to be our patron so hopefully this will boost the campaign.

Glasgow Nautical College are also on board and can play a part in her restoration.

Clyde Maritime Trust are also offering help to save this 138 year old ship

We will shortly be launching a crowd funding campaign, so please consider playing a part in this effort, if we succeed the plan is to rebuild her and put her back to work, as a Fairtrade Transport Vessel, Sail powered, carbon free.

Another aim is to include Community Groups and Secondary Schools across Scotland, who can send kids aboard on trips for life changing journeys to fly the flag for Scotland and Glasgows Shipbuilding Heritage.

Please share to all groups and friends you know, this will be a tough challenge, but will be worth it.

I am happy to share David’s message. I spoke with him at length on the phone this afternoon. He is walking into this with eyes wide open. He knows it will be a hard road. I fully support his efforts. I like his energy, enthusiasm, and willingness to explore all channels necessary.

While I would be sad to see the Falls leave Hawai‘i, to have her return to Scotland would be pono, since the state does not seem to care about supporting her as an important part of local maritime history.

There is hope.


Another Sailing Oil Carrier – Marion Chilcott

When reading about Falls of Clyde’s days as an oil tanker, the name Marion Chilcott is also often mentioned. Marion Chilcott was, in fact, the first sailing ship to bring fuel oil in bulk to Honolulu. However, I’m getting a little bit ahead of myself here…

Marion Chilcott was launched as Kilbrannan on 11 November 1882. She was a three-masted, full-rigged, iron-hulled ship built by Russell and Co. (the same company that built Falls of Clyde) at Port Glasgow for Kerr, Newton and Co. of Glasgow. At a length of 248 ft., beam of 38 ft., and depth of hold of 22 ft. 9 in., she was slightly smaller than the Falls.

On the afternoon/evening of 4 February 1896, during a voyage from Callao (Peru) to Port Townsend, Washington, Kilbrannan encountered rough weather. While attempting to make the anchorage at Port Townsend, the ship ran aground at Point Wilson despite all the efforts of her crew. She was refloated 22 days later.

She was purchased, repaired, and refitted at considerable cost by the Seattle company Barneson and Chilcott. She was renamed Marion Chilcott and was allowed (by law), due to the amount of money spent on her, to be registered as an American vessel.

In 1900, Marion Chilcott was purchased by Captain William Matson and added to his fleet of vessels sailing between San Francisco and Hilo. Captain Matson had her converted to an oil carrier in 1902 (The Falls was converted in 1907).

“Fuel oil is here to stay, and within a few months there will be established by the Matson Navigation Company at Honolulu [a] thoroughly up-to-date oiling station. The American ship Marion Chilcott, which arrived yesterday with a cargo of sugar from Hilo, has been selected as the pioneer of a line of oil transports which will be employed in keeping full the oil tanks of the Honolulu depot.” — San Francisco Call, May 3, 1902, p. 10

The work was done by the Risdon Iron Works in San Francisco.

“The Risdon people have engaged to complete the transformation in ninety days after the ship is turned over to them.” — San Francisco Call, May 3, 1902, p. 10

“Her tanks were tested and passed [by Lloyd’s surveyors] after having been filled once. There was neither leak nor imperfection and the Risdon people were complimented by the inspectors on the completeness of the work. The Chilcott is provided with twelve tanks, with a total carrying capacity of nearly 18,000 barrels. She can fill or empty all her tanks in twelve hours. She has two separate sets of pumps, which can be worked simultaneously or independently. One set is worked by steam generated in the donkey boiler on deck; the other set is operated by a 21 horsepower gas engine. The ship is fitted throughout with electric lgihts [sic], and in the arrangement of her oil tanks every precaution has been taken to insure perfect ventilation and to provide ample room for any expansion.” — San Francisco Call, October 17, 1902, p. 10

Soon after this, she sailed for Honolulu.

“The fine ship Marion Chilcott, Captain Nelson, of the Matson line, arrived in port Sunday with the first cargo of fuel oil, in bulk, brought to Oahu. The vessel had a tempestuous passage of sixteen days from San Francisco. The ship is loaded very deep in the water, having 17,000 barrels of bulk oil stored in the twelve tank compartments of her hull. She was berthed at the Railway wharf and will discharge her oil into the huge tanks recently built at Iwilei.” — The Pacific Commercial Advertiser [Honolulu], November 24, 1902, p. 10

Captain Nelson was quite proud of his ship:

“‘We could have a half dozen holes in the bottom of this vessel and it would still float,’ said Captain Nelson yesterday, ‘as each compartment is a separate affair, and should one get a hole punched into it, the others would still keep the vessel seaworthy. You see we have electric lights, and no smoking is allowed on deck, although men are permitted to smoke in their quarters. There is a steel hatch over each compartment, and a small valve fitted into each from which oil gas may escape, although but little gas forms from this oil.

“‘We can pump the 17,000 barrels of oil out of this ship, by using both pumps, in sixteen hours, but by using only one pump it would take twenty-four hours. We require no stevedores, as all we have to do when we wish to discharge cargo is to get out a big hose and connect our own pipes with the pipe line on the wharf. The engineer starts his pumps and gets our cargo out in a lively manner. We are not quite a man of war, but we come pretty near to being one as everything done aboard has to be done just so, although conditions are such that we run but little danger.'” — The Pacific Commercial Advertiser [Honolulu], November 24, 1902, p. 10

Some details from the engineer regarding ballasting the ship:

“No, we don’t have to buy ballast. We do not pay any longshoremen to put the ballast into our hold, as we have no gang down below trimming ballast, for the ballast we carry trims itself. When we wish to take ballast preparatory to sailing back to the Coast we simply dump the big hose you see yonder over the side and this pump will take enough water out of your harbor to keep this vessel steady during her return trip to the Coast. We will fill four of our twelve tanks with salt water and that is sufficient ballast. This, of course, is a very inexpensive proceeding.” — The Pacific Commercial Advertiser [Honolulu], November 27, 1902, p. 10

Marion Chilcott was sold to the Associated Oil Company (along with the Falls and a few of Matson’s other vessels), and continued carrying oil from California to Hawai‘i.

“THE TWO OIL VESSELS, the Marion Chilcott and the Falls of Clyde, both left this morning from here on their way to Gaviota. As they are both headed for the same place, there will probably be somewhat of a race.” – Evening Bulletin [Honolulu], March 21, 1908, p. 2

“In the Pacific service there are two very well-known sailing ships, namely, the ‘Falls of Clyde’ and the ‘Marion Chilcott.’ About two years ago their owners—the Associated Oil Company of San Francisco—were seriously considering installing auxiliary oil-engine power. But, for some reason known only to themselves they did not do so, so the ships have remained in service without power.” — Motorship, September 1918, p. 9

Marion Chilcott and the Falls were eventually sold to G.W. McNear, Inc. in 1919. Details get a bit fuzzy after this. She apparently continued sailing as a tanker during the early 1920s until she was taken to Trinidad to be used as a barge. I haven’t been able to find any definitive references as to what finally became of her.

If anyone knows, please comment.

(I’ll continue to research.)

Falls of Clyde Chronology

Bob Krauss’ book The Indestructible Square-Rigger Falls of Clyde: 324 Voyages Under Sail contains an abbreviated version of the ship’s time under the British flag. As part of my desire to better understand the ship, I have been working on a more detailed chronology. Not having ready access to original documents, most of the information has come from various newspapers and maritime publications. While the details from the first part of her career are still sparse, I have had better luck with her time as a Matson and, subsequently, as an Associated Oil ship. One thing is clear. Falls of Clyde was quite a workhorse, much like the Matson ships of today.

Providing Fuel to Ships

Given Falls of Clyde’s schedule of regular trips between Hawai‘i and California, I was puzzled by a lack of information about her movements from around June 1912 to February 1913. The San Francisco Call, usually a good source of ship arrival and departure dates, had nothing about her. I turned to Hawai‘i newspapers. They soon provided the answer.

Falls of Clyde in Ketchikan. Courtesy of Friends of Falls of Clyde.

Anyone with an interest in Falls of Clyde knows about her role as a floating fuel depot in Ketchikan, Alaska. As it turns out, she also acted in a similar capacity in Honolulu Harbor during the period mentioned above. She was referred to variously as “temporary oil tank,” “storage tanker,” “storage ship,” “station ship,” or “station oil tanker.” When steamers in port required a supply of fuel, she was called into action and moved to where she was needed.

From the Honolulu Star-Bulletin (October 4, 1912, p. 1):

“The storage ship Falls of Clyde proved a great convenience in supplying the Japanese liner Tenyo Maru with a consignment of fuel oil yesterday. The ship was towed to a berth on the Waikiki side of the liner, from which point the oil was transferred from ship to steamer tanks.”

Harbor service was not without its dangers. In December, while moored by the Matson ship Wilhelmina, Falls of Clyde was hit by the inter-island steamer Mauna Loa.

“The accident caused much excitement along the waterfront until the details of the disaster had become generally known. At first it was believed that through the impact from the steamer, the sailing ship had been punctured and would sink.

“An examination made immediately after the collision showed that while the Falls of Clyde was much damaged above the water line, little harm was done the hold of the vessel” (Honolulu Star-Bulletin, December 27, 1912, pp. 1–2).

The damage done to Falls of Clyde was estimated to be at least $1,000 and included the loss of forward rigging, gear, and her figurehead (Honolulu Star-Bulletin, December 27, 1912, p. 2).

There is also a Maui connection to this story. Falls of Clyde was towed (at least once) in her capacity as a station ship to Kāʻanapali to offload fuel oil there. (Later, she also made voyages under sail directly to Kāʻanapali from Gaviota.)

Falls of Clyde was finally released from harbor service in February 1913. She sailed for Gaviota on the 3rd of the month—back to her old routine, but free.


Ne'ena and Pride of America
Modern day fuel barge Ne‘ena alongside the cruise ship Pride of America