Wreck of the Edmund Fitz…. No, It’s the End for the ‘Falls of Clyde,’ Last of the First Oil Tankers

Today is a sad day for the world of oil tankers. Unless a miracle happens by 10 a.m. local time at the Hawaii Department of Transportation's Harbors Division, the last surviving iron-hulled, sail-driven oil tanker is headed to Davy Jones’ Locker. The once-proud, four-masted, 143-year-old windjammer will soon be scuttled by deliberately sinking her at sea off the shores of Honolulu. How could things have come to this? In today’s blog, we’ll take a trip down memory lane to explore how a spectacular, fully rigged oil tanker could have survived for so long, plying the oceans for this author’s former employer, only to be betrayed in her final years.

The “Falls of Clyde.” That’s the ship, named after a group of waterfalls on the River Clyde in Scotland, which runs through Glasgow. She was built in Port Glasgow (Inverclyde), and launched on December 12, 1878, the first of nine iron-hulled, four-masted ships for Wright, Breakenridge & Co.'s Falls Line, a Scottish shipping firm that operated in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In her maiden voyage she was off to Karachi (Pakistan) and for the next 21 years she sailed the seas as a British merchantman, hauling wheat, jute, cement, and lumber to and from Australia, India, New Zealand, the British Isles, and the U.S. West Coast.

Then, in 1899, the Falls of Clyde was shipped off to Honolulu and registered under the Hawaiian flag, just before Hawaii was annexed by the U.S. A special act of the U.S. Congress gave the Falls of Clyde the right to sail as an American-flagged vessel. At about the same time, the ship was rigged as a barque, meaning that her masts were reconfigured, a deckhouse and charthouse were added, and the owner did some work on the cabins so she could accept paying passengers. Over the next eight years, she made over 60 voyages between Hawaii and San Francisco carrying merchandise west, sugar east, and passengers both ways.

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