The 1877 Tall Ship ELISSA in Galveston, Texas is an iron-hulled, three-masted sailing ship that was constructed in 1877 by Alexander & Company in Aberdeen, Scotland. The ship features nineteen sails that cover a surface area of more than one-quarter of an acre. Tall ships, such as ELISSA, are classified by their sailing rig configuration. The tall ship ELISSA is 'barque' since she is built with square and fore-and-aft sails on her fore and mainmasts, but only carries fore-aft sails on her mizzenmast. The ship measures 205 feet in length, from the jibboom to the stern. ELISSA measures ninety-nine feet and nine inches in height at the main mast, and displaces around 620 tons of water at her current ballast. However, she is much more than wood, canvas, and iron.
The builder of Elissa was Henry Fowler Watt. According to his granddaughter, Marjorie Lyle, the name of the ship is from The Aeneid, an epic Roman poem. The tragedy of Dido, the Queen of Carthage, is the unifying theme for the first part of the tale. Before she was the Queen of Carthage, Dido was a Phoenician princess by the name of Elissa. She fled to Africa, where she founded Carthage, from Tyre.
Unlike several tall ships that can be seen today, ELISSA is a surviving ship, not a replica. The ship was built towards the end of the "Age of Sail" to fill a hole in maritime commerce. Throughout her ninety years of commercial history, ELISSA transported an array of cargo to many ports worldwide, for several different owners. Her life as a freighter ended in Piraeus Harbor in Greece, where she was saved from a scrap yard by a number of ship preservationists who refused to let the ELISSA die there. The story of her discovery and restoration is a miraculous tale, and is wonderfully retold through video presentation and photographs at the Texas Seaport Museum.
The 1877 Tall Ship ELISSA today is far more than just an artifact of the past. She is a completely functional vessel that to this day still sails the sea. The ship is sailed each year in the Gulf of Mexico during sea trials. With the help of the Galveston Historical Foundation and hundreds of dedicated volunteers, history is brought to life and the ELISSA, as well as the art of nineteenth century sailing, are still around today.
Groups can explore the ELISSA, a National Historic Landmark, and the world of sailing during the nineteenth century with the 1877 Tall Ship ELISSA Tour. The beautifully restored vessel visited Galveston, Texas in 1883 with a cargo of bananas from Tampico, Mexico, representing the major port city's affluent past. The one-hour tour includes a short video about the rescue of ELISSA and a guided tour through the merchant vessel, from stern to bow.
Younger guests can take part in the "It’s a Sailor's Life" program either during the day or overnight. The program offers a unique adventure into the world of ocean voyages and tall ships. Participants learn what it took to be a sailor on the high seas through a variety of hands-on activities.
103 Industrial Loop, Galveston, Texas, Phone: 830-990-1192
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