Designing a Berth for Elissa

Designing a Berth for Elissa

One of the few bright spots amid the catastrophic devastation of Hurricane Ike in September 2008 was that the Galveston Historical Foundation’s barque Elissa safely wead1ered the storm, remaining afloat at her berth.

The first reports and phoros I saw revealed some damage to sails and rigging, perhaps iniriared by airborne debris, a section of caprail stove in, as well as some damage ro the steering gear cover and aft scuttle.

Overall rhe damage was minor, at least compared to what mighr have been.

Hurricane Ike is by far rhe most severe rest the Elissa’s mooring system has been subjected to,

bur one which had been anticipated during rhe ship’s initial restoration.

In 1980-8 1, the restorati on work was being done ar an unused commercial wharf,

while the GHF negotiated wirh rhe Galvesron Wharves Board for a lease on the berth at Pier 21 adj acent to me Srrand.

One of rhe key decisions being debated was whether the ship should remai n at the berth during a hurri cane or seek a safer berth elsewhere.

At the time, the restoration plan called for an engineless sailing ship (auxiliary power was not re-installed until 1986),

so any movement would require hiring a tug. We considered a hurricane plan of taking her to a berth in or near Houston, nea rly fifty mil es inland from rhe open Gulf.

The wind velocity wo uld certainly be greatly diminished by moving inland, bur the negatives overwhelmed this one advantage.

The storm surge under certain conditions could be well over the piers in Houston,

the right combination of wind direction and tide could force the water in Galveston Bay up the Houston Ship Channel like a piston rising in a cylinder. More importandy,

all available berths were likely to be crowded with ships, barges, and drilling rigs also seekingshelrer.

 Being rafted in a gaggle of vessels all much larger and heavier rhan herself would likely crush Elissa’s 1877 hull.

The clincher argument against moving, however, was rhe unlikelihood of engaging a rug in advance of an impending hurricane.

At such times every owner of barges, drill rigs, etc. , most wirh deeper pockets rhan GH F’s, would be seeking to get d1eir equipment our of harm’s way.

Add it all up, and trying to move was riskier rhan staying put.

Elissa would sray in Galveston and her crew would put whatever time was availabl e before a storm into better securing the vessel.

 The G H F also acknowledged that after a hurricane, however badly damaged she might be,

Elissa would be most readily repaired at her home berth.

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