FALLS OF CLYDE
A mong the attractions for those who follow the sun to Hawaii is the sight of the
Falls of Clyde, now the only remaining iron, four-masted sailing ship in the world. For there she lies in Honolulu,
a Clyde built ship which was launched in 1878 and has the added distinction of being an early bulk carrier of
oil- one that had no need of the commodity for her own propulsion.
The Falls of Clyde, first of nine ships making up the Falls Line - and all of them
named after Scottish waterfalls - was built at Russell's yard at Port Glasgow,
where she was designed by a young man called William Todd Lithgow. William Lithgow was
eventually the sole partner in Russell's shipyard, which became better known to succeeding
generations under his own name.
She sailed on her maiden voyage to Karachi in 1879, spending the next 20 years sailing into
places like Calcutta, Cape Town, Rangoon, St Helena, Bombay, Auckland, Melbourne and San Francisco.
Seventy voyages later she was sold to the Matson Line of San Francisco, her new owner running up the Hawaiian flag just before the United States annexed the islands. For eight years she carried sugar and passengers to San Francisco and returned with general cargo, livestock and humans. Though sailing ships had already carried oil products in five gallon containers, it was something different when, in 1907, the Falls of Clyde was converted to become a bulk oil tanker.
A young German sailor of poetic tendency, Fred Klebingat, once described catching sight of her gleaming white canvas in the morning sun: 'We assembled aft, the captain and his mates, the watch on deck and the watch’ below, even the cook, just to admire her as she crossed our course astern. Her sleek brown hull was ornamented at the bow with a graceful figurehead, a lady in white, who with unseeing eyes gazed out over the path ahead." Little did young Klebingat know that one day he would be her chief mate. She carried oil throughout the First World War and, after her last voyage in 1922, was converted to a floating oil depot in Alaska.
In 1958 she was due to be sunk to form a breakwater in Vancouver Harbour when up popped the poetic German sailor. When Captain Klebingat saw his old ship in such good order, he went to see Karl Kortum, director of the San Francisco-Maritime Museum. But their efforts to find a saviour seemed to have come unstuck when finally they aroused interest in Honolulu. Local newspapers and radio stations joined the campaign, children collected money in cans and. two days before a mortgage deadline, and she was saved. To be taken over by the Bishop -Museum in Honolulu, where she was restored.
Among those who fell for her graceful lines was Sir William Lithgow, grandson of her designer, whose Scottish yard provided her with 19th century gear. Sir Williams’s son has also worked on her, helping the great lady of the sea to live on