Mention “sailing vessels in Hawaii,” and most people automatically think of Polynesian canoes. But Honolulu, Oahu is also the home of the Falls of Clyde, the only surviving, fully-rigged, four-masted sailing ship left in the world. Docked at Honolulu Harbor next to the Aloha Tower Marketplace, the ship now serves as a floating exhibit at the Hawaii Maritime Center.
Over 265 feet long and weighing in at over a thousand tons, the Falls of Clyde took a circuitous rout in reaching the Hawaiian Islands. The ship was built in 1878 in Port Glasgow, Scotland and served as a trade ship. Her maiden voyage took her to Karachi, with subsequent trips including stops in Australia, India, New Zealand, the British Isles and California.
In 1899, the ship was purchased by Captain William Matson and became the first four-masted ship to fly under the Hawaiian flag. When Hawaii was annexed by the United States in 1900, it took a special act by Congress to give the foreign-built ship the right to fly the American flag. Rigged down as a bark and adding passenger accommodations, Falls of Clyde brought general merchandise from San Francisco and sugar from Honolulu.
An oil company purchased the ship in 1907 and converted her to a bulk tanker. Following World War I, the ship sailed to Denmark and made her last voyage under sail, to Brazil. In 1925, the Falls of Clyde was sold again, this time to the General Petroleum Company, which used the ship as an oil barge in Alaska. Finally, in 1963, the bank holding the mortgage on the ship decided to sell her to be sunk as part of a breakwater at Vancouver, British Columbia. At the last minute, however, the Falls of Clyde was purchased and transferred to Honolulu to be used as a public exhibit.
Restored to her past glory, the Falls of Clyde opened to the public in 1968. Her restoration was assisted by the grandson of her original builder, Sir William Lithgow. His Glasgow shipyard donated masts and other fittings.
The ship is now listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Admission to the Hawaii Maritime Center includes a tour of the Falls of Clyde. The Center is open daily from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.