Imagine that this is a cool and brisk fall day along the east coast of Scotland on October 27, 1877. We are standing in front of hull number 294 looking up at the graceful Aberdeen bow and filigree of wires that make up this small barque’s head rigging. Just a few weeks before, this slipway was awash in the sounds of the riveter’s hammer and caulker’s mallet; of riggers hailing from aloft and painters applying their craft to this graceful hull. To one side of this scene stands a man…Henry Fowler Watt….. oblivious to the din and fixing in his mind’s eye this hull…his hull, cleaving through the waters of the Atlantic making a fast passage around the Cape and onwards toward the Spice islands and India. He watches as these sorcerers, these magicians under the guise of shipfitters convert flat plates of iron into the pleasing shapes of a graceful hull…a French curve in iron and sweat.
It starts as a small trembler, barely discernable above the din of a working shipyard, but slowly…ever so slowly hull no. 294 begins her long journey to us, her penultimate crew. The penultimate crew - for if we bestow our sweat, love and talents to ELISSA…there will always be a next crew. Excitement and whiskey is in the air as the graceful hull slowly at first but gaining momentum, glides into her element. ELISSA is launched. Today, we can almost recall the spicy scent of freshly cut teak; of the rigger’s ballet of swaying aloft finely fashioned spars and freshly tarred rigging being turned in round beautiful lignum vitae deadeyes. In our mind’s eye and sailor’s soul we can sail back in time to stand alongside Henry Fowler Watt and marvel in reverent appreciation at the birth of this graceful ship, the Aberdeen built barque ELISSA.
We can sit atop a mooring bitt and marvel that this piece of living sculpture from the Victorian age has been passed down through many hands and hearts to us… to look after…to love…to restore again to her seagoing shape and form. The original restoration of ELISSA was a fine beginning, and nurtured the craft and skills the ship needs for her continued well being. Those skills are now entrusted to us to utilize to our fullest extent and to pass along to the next generation of caretakers. We have the duty to add our efforts to this continuum of excellence…ELISSA’s tradition of craftsmanship that began with Henry Fowler Watt’s insistence on having his ship, our ship, built not to the standard Lloyds 100 A1 level of quality but to Lloyds Special survey.
Being built to Lloyd’s Special survey meant ELISSA was crafted to a level of quality above expediency and resulted in ELISSA being built to a level far above the standard 100A1 classification.. We have a wonderful opportunity to add our talents and spirits into the collective crew of the ELISSA. We are joining with that first riveter who drove in the first of many rivets that still hold us all and our ship together.
As we get ready to begin another year’s sail training, let’s remember from time to time that cool October so many years ago… and join in helping to keep alive a ship so dear to us all. I came across an article that is not as sensational as the Chronicle piece from several weeks back – it is a more factual and even telling of the challenges we face and will accomplish with everyone’s help. Historic tall ship Elissa needs help
Full and bye,