Historic Ship Preservation & Restoration – barque Elissa – the tale of a rivet

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    Frank Scott

      The problems and cost involved in the restoration and preservation of any historic vessel should never be underestimated, as can be seen by the case of the Elissa.

      Elissa is a small iron-hulled barque (367 grt), built by Alexander Hall, Aberdeen, in 1877. Eventually she ended up under Greek flag, and in 1970 was rescued from the scrapyard thank to the initiative of the late Peter Throckmorton and Karl Kortum. Thereafter she languished for a while, but in 1975 she was purchased by the Galveston Historic Foundation, and brought over to Galveston, Texas. After much work and expense she was opened to the public in July 1982, and made her first voyage under sail for many years only a month later.

      Since 1981 Elissa has been dry-docked twice every five years as part of the USCG certification requirements. Although isolated corrosion was sometimes found and remedied, there were no major problems until the docking in January 2011 shockingly showed her to be unseaworthy. The first sign of a problem was that a quarter of the 55 sacrificial zinc anodes on the hull had been completely eaten away. Water-blasting revealed more unprecedented problems, excessive pitting (sometimes entirely through) in about 16% of her underwater hull plating, as well as numerous wasted rivets. The cause of this disaster was established as very severe electrolytic corrosion since the last dry-docking in January 2008, and the unexpected culprit was Hurricane Ike of September 2008, as it was found that Hurricane damage had left live electric cabling in the water near the ship for some time (NB: only essential personnel were allowed on the Island for two weeks).

      Jamie White has produced a fascinating on-line photo journal about the massive amount of repair work that was undertaken subsequently on Elissa over 2012/13 to bring her back up to standard. Included in this is a photo of modern mild steel welded to 1877 wrought iron, and he notes that ‘Special welding protocols were developed to weld modern steel to 1877 wrought iron.’. Well worth a look: https://www.scribd.com/document/261896322/ELISSA-Tale-of-Rivet

      For her original recovery and restoration see: Kurt D. Voss, Galveston’s the Elissa: The Tall Ship of Texas (Charleston, SC, 2009)

      For a UK view of the issue see: Martin Bellamy, Financing the Preservation of Historic Ships: should the UK Taxpayer Pay? An Overview of Past, Present and Future Policy, Mariner’s Mirror 97:1 (2011), 344-65

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