SOS for the Falls of Clyde

The Bishop Museum says it may have to sink this historical vessel.

Photo by Rae Huo

When HONOLULU Magazine published the first list of “The 9 Most Endangered Historic Sites in Hawaii,” compiled by the Historic Hawaii Foundation, one of those sites was the Falls of Clyde at the Hawaii Maritime Center. The 130-year-old wrought iron vessel is the last surviving member of Hawaii’s original Matson fleet and the world’s only surviving full-rigged, four-masted sailing ship.

The threat then, in 2005, was physical deterioration. The late Bob Krauss, The Honolulu Advertiser columnist who had been instrumental in bringing the ship home from the Mainland in 1963, noted that most fund-raising since the ’60s had gone to cover the ship’s debt, while maintenance had been deferred.

Last February, the Bishop Museum, which operates the Hawaii Maritime Center, closed the Clyde to visitors out of safety concerns, and, in April, brought in marine surveyor Joseph Lombardi, owner of the Massachusetts-based Ocean Technical Survey.

His 195-page report was alarming—the Falls of Clyde would cost $24- to $32-million to restore, then $1 million a year for upkeep. In March of this year, the museum alerted its supporters with a letter. “The entire annual budget for Bishop Museum … is $16 million,” wrote museum president and CEO Timothy Johns. “We wish we could move forward with a complete restoration … but [we] do not have the finances or staff resources to undertake a fundraising campaign of this magnitude.”

At a Glance


Dec. 12, 1878, in Port Glasgow, Scotland, on the banks of the River Clyde.

First arrival in the Islands:

1898.  Served in Capt. Matson’s growing sugar fleet, running from Hilo to the West Coast more than 60 times between 1899 and 1907.


In 1907 into a sail-powered oil carrier, bringing oil to Hawaii’s sugar plantations.


In 1920, the Clyde left the Islands, changing hands repeatedly until 1958 when it seemed the obsolete vessel would be scrapped.


In 1958, a private owner buys the Clyde, tows it to Seattle, and tries to find a city that will adopt it. Advertiser columnist Bob Krauss and other Hawaii philanthropists launch a grassroots effort to save the ship, raising $35,000. By 1963, the ship becomes a fixture on the Honolulu waterfront, undergoing $3 million worth of restoration over the next 34 years.

Johns said the museum would search for a benefactor until June, and then would have to make other plans for the Clyde, including disposing of the ship.

Why move so quickly? Would the ship just suddenly sink on July 1st if no help were found? “That’s a very real possibility,” says Lombardi. “Anyone can see sunshine through the hull. It’s in eggshell condition.”

“We set the deadline to convey the urgency of the situation,” Johns explained to HONOLULU. “The Falls of Clyde continues to deteriorate, we didn’t want people to think it could be put off.”

The museum faces three expensive possibilities. The ship could sink at its pier—worse, it could roll over as it sinks, doing damage with its tall masts. Or, the museum could strip the ship of all salvageable artifacts now, and document it for posterity, then sink it. Even then, Lombardi says the Clyde needs to be reinforced to be towed safely to its final destination.

Saving it, the best, but most expensive outcome, is still possible. The museum has been working with Lombardi’s firm, which is well connected to the historic ship community throughout the world, having done survey or restoration work for such historic vessels as the aircraft carrier USS Forrestal, and submarines USS Lionfish, USS Croaker and U-505, at Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry.  Says Johns, “Through Lombardi, we sent letters to about 500 historic ship organizations and historic ship enthusiasts throughout the world to see if any of them could ‘adopt’ the Falls of Clyde and fund the renovation.”

So far, says Lombardi, there have been a few inquiries, but no solid lead.

“I’m struggling with this, because the ship is a national historic landmark, and was on our Most Endangered list,” says Kiersten Faulkner, executive director of the Historic Hawaii Foundation. “It would be a real loss.  But the Bishop Museum is taking the steps necessary to see what can be done.”

Meanwhile, there’s a month left. If you happen to be a billionaire with a thing for old ships, call Johns now at 848-4142.