Don’t let Falls of Clyde sink without a fight
The Falls of Clyde at Honolulu is one of the few remaining 19th-century square-riggers, the only remaining example of a four-masted ship afloat, the only remaining example of a sailing oil tanker and the only remaining big sailing ship to have been registered in Hawaii ("Savior needed for Falls of Clyde," Star-Bulletin, June 25).
The Falls of Clyde is significant for Hawaii, for the United States and for the international community. Those who saved the ship in the 1960s understood this. It would be a shameful thing for our generation to let her go and deny this wonderful historic artifact to future generations.
The Falls of Clyde has been neglected. No ship can be left afloat indefinitely. Periodic docking is essential. Without a plan to undertake such basic maintenance, one cannot say that there has been a serious effort to conserve the vessel. However, the Falls of Clyde is still a viable restoration. Compare her against the James Craig that we have restored in Sydney, which had been a wreck for 40 years. Falls of Clyde is in nowhere near as bad a condition as our ship was. But by the same token, the days of just using the Falls of Clyde without getting serious about her restoration appear to have passed. It is now time to act.
I was closely involved in the restoration of James Craig in Sydney for 15 years and conceived the facility that made the project possible. The key solution was to put the ship on a pontoon dock so that work could be carried out as and when funds became viable without tying up a commercial ship repair facility. Our pontoon dock was purpose built. The cost in the 1980s was about $300,000. Today that might amount to $1 million. It was a big investment, but it paid for itself many times over. That pontoon dock is still in use 23 years later, currently used for restoring another ship, the steamer John Oxley.
As an alternative to building a new dock, it might also be possible to source an existing vessel (perhaps a surplus floating dock or a barge from the offshore industry). Once the Falls of Clyde is docked on the pontoon dock, that will provide a buffer against rash action and allow a slower, more paced and probably more economic approach to the restoration.
It is probably unrealistic to hope that a benefactor will arrive with $30 million like a knight in shining armor. My experience is that success builds on success. By the same token, people tend to hold back until they see a commitment from others. Funding is much more likely when potential benefactors can see a plan for the future that provides for a reasonably viable way ahead. Putting the Falls of Clyde on a dock will help achieve this. Just as important, it provides for a much more realistic short-term target of $1 million instead of $30 million.
Mori Flapan lives in Manly, New South Wales, Australia.