Podcast: The Official Tall Ship of Texas, The Historic Journey of the 1877 Tall Ship ELISSA

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The 1877 Tall Ship ELISSA is a historic tall ship that has been sailing for over a century. The Elissa is now docked as an attraction and training ship at the Port of Galveston, a prominent destination for tourists and avid sailors alike. The journey of the 1877 Tallship Elissa to ultimately become the official tall ship of Texas is intriguing, involving the fortunate detection of the vessel in a Greek shipyard by a renowned marine archaeologist.

Built with an iron hull in 1877 in Aberdeen, Scotland, a famous shipbuilding area, the Elissa is one of the oldest active sailing ships in the world. The vessel was designed to be operated by 12 crewmembers and carry all types of cargo. It's known as a Clyde Built Square Rigger, and most of the original vessel remains intact today, making it a marvel of historic preservation.

The Elissa has transported a wide variety of cargo to ports all over the world throughout its sailing life. The Elissa called the busy port of Galveston in 1883 with a load of bananas and sailed with a load of cotton, Galveston's top export in the late 1800s. On another voyage, she sailed through the 1886 hurricane that destroyed the port city of Indianola, only to arrive in Galveston to find no available cargo as the city and port sustained significant storm damage from the same storm. These two visits to Galveston were enough to forge a meaningful connection between the port city of Galveston and the iron-hulled sailing vessel.

The Elissa traveled extensively throughout the mid-Atlantic, North and South America, and Baltic and surrounding seas for decades, even under new owners and different names. When the ship transferred ownership, the vessel's name changed as well. Elissa has also been known as Fjeld, Gustav, Christophoros, Achaeos, and Pioneer.

The Elissa had seen conversions and improvements over the years, from sail configuration to the installation of an engine in 1918 and even the removal of the sails altogether. In 1918 she was cut down to a barkentine rig, and an engine was installed.

The vessel was purchased by a Greek shipping company in 1960, only to enter into a cycle of sailing for a single company for a few years and then sold to another Greek owner. In 1967, she was purchased by new Greek ship owners and used as a smuggling vessel in the Adriatic Sea.

The Elissa was discovered at a dock in Piraeus, Greece, and purchased in 1970 by renowned marine archeologist Peter Throckmorton and her name was temporarily changed to Pioneer. The City of San Francisco expressed interest in obtaining the ship, but due to funding difficulties, they were unable to move forward with acquiring the vessel. In 1974, the Galveston Historical Foundation purchased her with the intention of restoring her as a part of the Strand Historic District. She was finally renamed Elissa after seven decades of ownership changes. Over the next three years, civic groups in Galveston raised $40,000 to bring her across the Atlantic, and extensive hull repairs were done by volunteers to prepare her for her journey across the open ocean bound for Galveston!

In the summer of 1978, the Elissa became the first item outside the United States to be placed on the National Register of Historic Places. She underwent a three-year restoration involving extensive hull repair and new masts, yards, rigging, sails, deck, and deck houses, as well as restoration of her cabins, saloon, and forecastle. Elissa's beauty is not just skin-deep. Her masts are made of Douglas fir from Oregon, and her 19 sails were made in Maine. The pin rail and bright work are made of teak, a wood known for its durability and beauty. During its restoration, the Galveston Historical Foundation was determined to create a figurehead for Elissa. A young woman from the volunteer crew was used as the model. She was tied to the ship's bow with ropes to get the composition just right. Today, when you view Elissa, you can see the figurehead holding the Yellow Rose of Texas. After four years of hard work from volunteers and the Galveston Historical Foundation, she was ready to set sail again. Following the restoration, she was formally opened in 1982 as a tourist attraction and sailed on sea trials in the Gulf of Mexico.

In 1985, Elissa made her first voyage as a restored sailing ship, traveling to Corpus Christi. She was welcomed with open arms, and her beauty and grace captured the hearts of all who saw her. She sailed to New York City a year later to participate in the Statue of Liberty's centennial celebrations.

The Tallship Elissa stands tall here at the Port of Galveston. She is a living piece of history, a reminder of the days when wind-powered vessels ruled the seas. Visitors can step aboard Elissa and experience what it was like to sail on a tall ship in the 19th century.

The story of Elissa is a story of resilience and determination. Despite the changes, she has seen and the challenges she has faced, she has survived, and her beauty and grace remain. She symbolizes our past, a reminder of the skills and knowledge passed down through the generations. And she is a testament to the power of human ingenuity and creativity and the enduring beauty of the sea.

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J.R. Shaw Creator & Host of Galveston Unscripted

J.R. Shaw is the creator and host of Galveston Unscripted Podcast & audio tour. Shaw recognizes that history is nuanced and learning it can be powerful. He's made it his mission to reduce the friction between true history and anyone who is willing to listen! J.R. Shaw focuses on telling the full story through podcasting and social media with the goal of making learning accurate history easy and entertaining for all who seek it.

J.R. grew up along the Texas Gulf Coast, where he learned to love talking with anyone about anything! He started Galveston Unscripted after he realized how much he loved talking to people about their stories related to Galveston Island and Texas History. "So much of our history is lost when we don't have the opportunity to hear from those who lived it or have second-hand knowledge."