ELISSA - Official Tall Ship of Texas

ELISSA Tall Ship, GalvestonELISSA is a three-masted, iron-hulled sailing ship built in 1877 in Aberdeen, Scotland by Alexander Hall & Company. It bears the original builder's plate and reads as, Alexander Hall & Company, No. 294, Aberdeen, 1877. She carries 19 sails, covering approximately 12,000 square feet. ELISSA’s sailing rig is classified ‘barque’ because she carries square and fore-and-aft sails on her fore and mainmasts, but only fore-and-aft sails on her mizzenmast. ELISSA measures 205 feet from its stern to the tip of its jib boom, and displaces about 620 tons.


According to Marjorie Lyle, granddaughter of ELISSA’s builder, Henry Fowler Watt, the ship’s name comes from the epic Roman poem The Aeneid.  ELISSA was a Phoenician princess who fled from Tyre to Africa and founded Carthage. She was built in 1877, sailing under Greek, British, Norwegian and Swedish flags.

Over ELISSA’s 90-year commercial history, she carried a variety of cargos to ports around the world for a succession of owners.  The ELISSA was rescued from destruction by ship preservationists who found her languishing in a salvage yard in Piraeus, Greece. She was purchased for $40,000, in 1975, by the Galveston Historical Foundation, her current owners. In 1979, after a year in Greece having repairs done to her hull, the ELISSA was towed to Galveston. There the restoration process continues.

The ELISSA made her first voyage as a restored sailing ship in 1985, traveling to Corpus Christi, Texas. A year later, she sailed to New York City to take part in the Statue of Liberty’s centennial celebrations.

According to the March 2011 Bay Area Houston Magazine, the ELISSA "will be featured in a 150-mile sailboat race from Galveston to Port Aransas in October part of Lakewood's celebration of the 25th anniversary of its Harvest Moon Regatta. Typically, over 220 boats enter the event, which makes it the largest port-to-port race within the United States."

Help Preserve the Past

Today, Galveston Historical Foundation, combined with the dedication of hundreds of volunteers, try to keep her seaworthy. She has earned National Historic Landmark status.

Harry Byington, 83-years old, still climbs the 99+-foot main mast to loosen and unfurl the royal sail each March during daysails.  In 2009, Harry donated more than 384 hours as a volunteer  to the maintenance and restoration of ELISSA.  Harry has 5,436 lifetime volunteer hours. Joe Willhelm, active volunteer on ELISSA, has just been approved as Board President of the Galveston Historical Foundation 2011-2012.

Each volunteer class consists of half sail training instruction and half maintenance instruction. Volunteers chip rust, sand teakwood, seize manila lines, paint, tar [pine tar, not coal tar], sweep, scrub, carpenter and oil. During sail training, volunteers pull lines, tie knots, climb 90 feet into the rig and walk around the ship over and over while memorizing the placement and use of 180 lines.

Volunteers come from every conceivable walk of life. Volunteers contributing more than 20 hours are welcome to spend the night on ELISSA’s open deck.

Anchors Aweigh

ELISSAPrior to the confinement at dry dock, ELISSA sails annually in a series of “sea trials” in the Gulf of Mexico and has made offshore voyages to several Gulf ports and to destinations as far away as Bermuda and New York City. Under a British flag in the 1880s, ELISSA called on Galveston twice loading cotton for mills in England.

The ELISSAalso sailed under Norwegian and Swedish flags. In Norway she was known as the Fjeld of Tonsbergand her master was Captain Herman Andersen. In Sweden her name was Gustav of Gothenburg.

When she's not sailing, the ELISSAis moored at the Texas Seaport Museum in Galveston.


•    Length: 150-feet (45 m) approximate
•    Beam: 28-feet (8.5 m)
•    Draft: 10.5-feet (3.2 m)
•    Height: 99.75-feet (30.4 m) at top of main mast
•    Engine: 1986 GM V12-92 450 HP
•    Gross tonnage: 411 tons
•    Granted to National Register of Historic Places while outside the United States
•    National Historic Landmark
•    Designated one of "America's Treasures" by the National Trust for Historic Preservation

But, ELISSA is in trouble and needs your help.  As a result of Hurricane Ike, she has become a quiet victim of a gradual but debilitating deterioration from electrolysis.  When Galveston Historical Foundation took her to drydock in January, extensive corrosion of the historic hull was discovered.  Her hull was patched up and returned to the Texas Seaport Museum, not to sail again without a restoration of her hull. 

Galveston Historical Foundation launched the “Keep ELISSA Sailing” campaign in early 2011 at the Texas Seaport Museum to begin a $3 million dollar campaign for a second restoration of ELISSA.  ELISSA, official tall ship of Texas, needs your support today to keep a memory alive for tomorrow. If you would like to help, you can contribute online at www.galvestonhistory.org/Elissa-donate.asp or call the Texas Seaport Museum at 409-763-1877.


Texas Seaport Museum

Home of the 1877 Tall Ship ELISSA

Pier 21 #8, Galveston, TX  77550

409-763-1877 fax:  409-763-3037


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Mailing P O Box 996, Seabrook, TX 77586
Tel: (800) 335-8161
Email: cheryl @ On The Water Lifestyle.com (without spaces)


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