Good, if Highly Confusing News, About the Galveston‚Äôs Tall Ship Elissa
There were several recent news accounts related to the Galveston’s 1877 iron barque Elissa which frankly made us shake our heads and ask,” where did they come up with this stuff?” ¬†The extremely good news is that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has awarded the state of Texas $1.4-million for repairs to Elissa¬†for ¬†damage in hurricane Ike.‚Ä®¬† ¬†Exactly why and how she was damaged is the confusing part. ¬†The explanations vary widely and none appear to be correct from all that we have seen.
Several sources, including MarineLink.com and the Sacramento Bee,¬†claim¬†that the ship was damaged by “wave action and storm surge generated by Ike, [which] ¬†damaged the structural integrity of Elissa‚Äôs hull, weakening it to a point where significant rehabilitation efforts are necessary.” ¬†OK. Not implausible, if that is what really happened.
The Houston Chronicle has a different story. Houston and Galveston are by Texas standards very close to one another so it is likely that the Chronicle should get the story right. ¬†Or maybe not. The Chronicle also reported that the repairs were due to Hurricane Ike but then went on to say that a “Coast Guard inspection in 2011 revealed that the iron and steel bottom of the three-masted ship was nearly rusted through in places.” ¬† So, if it was rust and not storm surge, how was the damage due to Hurricane Ike? Later in the article, they also note that “the foundation showed FEMA that debris, pollutants in the water and other factors accelerated the rotting of the ship’s iron bottom.” ¬†Let’s ignore for a moment that rot and¬†rust¬†are not really¬†synonyms. The statement still does not explain how Hurricane Ike was involved.
This appears to be a case where everyone in the media seems to have gotten it wrong. ¬†The¬†story¬†about the storm¬†surge¬†makes no sense for two reasons. First, the repairs to the Elissa are primary related to replacing hull plating. If¬†storm¬†surge “damaged the structural integrity of¬†Elissa‚Äôs hull” as reported, then a¬†significant¬† portion of internal structure would also have to be repaired or replaced.
The second reason that the “storm surge” explanation makes no sense is because in September of 2008,¬†immediately¬†after Hurricane Ike passed through town, the Houston Chronicle reported that the old ship was undamaged. ¬†The docks and buildings around the¬†building¬†were damaged but not the ship. As we posted on September 22, 2008, the Chronicle reported, “Several yards away the tall ship Elissa appeared to have weathered the storm well. Aside from tattered sails that been unfurled in the winds, there was little damage. A flock of seagulls rested on her mooring ropes and the pier where she was docked.”
The source of the “storm¬†surge reference” may been a confused press release from FEMA.
So what really happened to Elissa and how was she damaged by Hurricane Ike, if no one thought she was damaged shortly after the hurricane passed through? ¬†We were as convinced as everyone else. Our¬†post¬†was titled, “Tall Ship Elissa ‚Äď 1877 survives Hurricane Ike with little damage.” ¬†What happened between 2008 and 2011 when a Coast Guard inspection found serious corrosion in a number of the Elissa’s hull plates?
The real answer is that no one absolutely¬†knows for sure but what appears to have happened was that when the docks were damaged by the storm, an electrical power cable must have broken or have fallen into the water and was not detected for a period of time. ¬†The corrosion on the Elissa was not simply rust (or rot) as suggested by the recent Chronicle article, but stray AC current electrolytic corrosion. The leak of AC current into the water caused by Hurricane Ike, did serious damage to the ship. ¬†It¬†just¬†wasn’t evident until the Coast Guard inspection, three years later. ¬†(See our previous post:¬†The Tall Ship Elissa : Stray Current Electrolytic Corrosion¬†for a more complete discussion.)
So it appears that the media got it all or mostly wrong. In¬†this¬†case the one group that got it right was FEMA, in making the grant for the repairs. ¬†¬†Congratulations¬†to the Galveston¬†Historical¬†Foundation and all the volunteers who have worked so long to maintain the Elissa. The $1.4 million grant is well¬†deserved.