Maritime History Notes: Four ships looking for a home

The bark, Falls of Clyde, is in desperate condition. Built in 1878, it is the sole remaining sail-powered oil tanker in the world. The ship has served as a museum at a downtown Honolulu pier since 1963.

Falls of Clyde was built at Port Glasgow, Scotland, for the Calcutta trade. Rigged as a four-mast square rigger, the ship traded worldwide, carrying cargoes of wheat, cotton, lumber and explosives. After completing 70 voyages under the British flag, the Falls of Clyde was offered for sale.

In 1898, the ship was purchased by William Matson through the intercession of A.M. Brown, a Hawaiian citizen, for $25,000 and flew the Hawaiian flag. After the annexation of Hawaii later that year by the U.S., an act of Congress specifically named the Falls of Clyde and four other ships being entitled to the American registry.

During the ship’s service, Matson Navigation employed it to transport goods and machinery to the islands and return to the U.S. mainland with full cargo holds of raw sugar.

The Falls of Clyde was later reduced to a bark rig, converted to a sail-powered tanker for the carriage of oil and molasses, and transferred to the Associated Oil Co. The ship continued in this trade until 1921, when it was sold to the General Petroleum Co. Then converted to an oil barge, the ship spent three decades as a floating oil depot for the offshore fishing fleet at Ketchikan, Alaska.

In 1958, the ship was offered for sale in Seattle, until it was finally towed to Honolulu and restored as a museum ship. Today, the ship is in the care of the Friends of the Falls of Clyde, which hopes to return the ship to Scotland, where it would be restored for use as an educational and training vessel.

The S.S. United States has sat idle since 1969. The rust-flaked hull and missing lifeboats tell a sad story of this once famous liner. [Photo source: Capt. James McNamara]

The second ship in need of a permanent home is the S.S. United States, the one-time Blue Riband holder, which ended its sailing career in 1969.

Since that time, the ship has been stripped of its accommodations and is owned by the S.S. United States Conservancy, which is working to find the necessary resources to restore and provide a second life to the aging liner, perhaps as a stationary, mixed-use development and museum.

The U.S. Maritime Administration is currently decommissioning the nuclear power plant of the N.S. Savannah at Philadelphia in preparation to offer the ship for new use. [Source: Capt. James McNamara]

The third ship is the Savannah, the world’s first nuclear-powered merchant ship.

The Savannah was launched in 1959 to promote the peaceful use of nuclear energy as a showcase of the Eisenhower administration’s Atoms for Peace program. The ship is undergoing decommissioning at the Port of Philadelphia, and upon completion the U.S. Maritime Administration will determine its future.

The John W. Brown, one of the three remaining Liberty ships, is well maintained. However, the pier where it had been berthed in Baltimore was recently sold and plans for a new location are not firm. [Photo source: Capt. James McNamara]

The fourth ship is the John W. Brown, a 1942 Baltimore-built Liberty ship. After completing 13 voyages carrying troops and cargo during and after World War II, the John W. Brown became a maritime trades high school in New York for 36 years. The ship was then obtained by Project Liberty Ship in 1988 and fully restored. It has since sailed 25,000 miles to ports in the U.S. and Canada from its Baltimore base.

However, the John W. Brown’s longtime berth in the Port of Baltimore was recently sold, and there is currently a plan to bring the ship to a site in the Fairfield area of the port.