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Elissa (1980)

Galveston Historical Foundation

Sound | 1980

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  •  History of the Elissa 
  •  Peter Throckmorton discovers the vessel at a salvage yard in the port of Athens, Greece, and restoration plans start to form 
  •  The Galveston Historical Foundation purchases the ship 
  •  About the Elissa’s original construction 
  •  Repairing the ship’s iron hull 
  •  Walter Rybka (left) and Michael Creamer (right). Creamer ran the ship model shop at the South Street Seaport Museum in Galveston. He and Paul Gaido made the initial approach to the Galveston Historical Foundation about purchasing the Elissa. After the Foundation took on the project, Creamer traveled to Greece to oversee the first stage of the restoration process. 
  •  About the Aberdeen bow 
  •  Ceremonial ship launching and towing preparations 
  •  Final inspection before leaving Greece 
  •  A problem arises 
  •  The Elissa departs for Gibraltar 
  •  About the vessel’s original owner 
  •  Traditions of sail 
  •  Why preserve old ships? 
  •  Passage to Galveston 
  •  Formal homecoming celebration 
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In 1974, the Galveston Historical Foundation purchased the Elissa, a three-masted barque tall ship, to complement the Strand Historic District. After nearly a century at sea—during which it sailed under British, Norwegian, Swedish, Finnish, and Greek flags—the vessel was at the time languishing in a salvage yard in the port of Athens, Greece. Before the Foundation could tow the Elissa back to Galveston, however, restoration efforts were required. Produced by Robert Cozens for KUHT Film Production, this educational film thoroughly describes the discovery of the historic ship and first stage of its restoration process, known as the Greek campaign. Next, the Elissa is towed to Gibraltar, where her restoration continues until she is ready to set sail for Texas on June 25, 1979. She arrives in Galveston on July 20. Over the next three years, the Elissa would undergo a complete restoration, formally opening as a tourist attraction on July 4, 1982.
Originally launching on October 27, 1877, the Elissa is one of the oldest sailing ships in existence. She was built in Aberdeen, Scotland, for Henry Fowler Watts of Liverpool, England. Notwithstanding the development of steamships in the 1880s, which soon replaced most small sailing ships like the Elissa, the vessel was steadily employed as a freight carrier for the next 90 years. 
After 20 years as a British merchant vessel, the Elissa was sold to the Norwegian firm of Bugge and Olsen, which sailed her for another 14 years under the name Fjeld of Tønsberg. In 1912, she was purchased by Carl Johansson of Sweden, who changed the ship’s name to Gustaf of Gothenburg and later converted her into a two-masted brigantine. In 1930, she was bought by a Finnish firm, which reconverted her into a schooner. The vessel continued operating in Scandinavian waters until 1960, when she began sailing in the Mediterranean under Greek ownership as the motor ship Christophoros. In 1967, new Greek owners changed her name to Achaios and began using her as a smuggler. 
Attempts to restore the vessel as a full-rigged sailing ship began in 1970 when she was moored at Pireaus, the port of Athens, Greece. After several attempts to locate American sponsors to underwrite the ship’s restoration failed, the Galveston Historical Foundation purchased the ship in 1974. The Elissa remained in the Mediterranean for the next five years, while civic groups in Galveston raised the necessary $40,000 to bring her to Texas and extensive repairs were carried out on the ship’s iron hull. 
After setting sail for Texas on June 25, 1979, the Elissa arrived off Galveston on July 20. Over the next three years, she underwent a complete restoration, including new masts, rigging, sails, and deck. (The total cost of the project was about $4.2 million.) The Elissa formally opened as a tourist attraction on July 4, 1982. On Labor Day of the same year, she made her first voyage as a restored sailing ship, and has sailed periodically ever since. She is now berthed at Galveston’s Pier 21.