The Elissa is a floating museum piece. Built in Scotland in 1877, she's one of only three 19th century three-masted square-riggers in the United States that have been fully restored. After half a dozen owners and about that many lives and careers in shipping, legal and illegal, Elissa was headed for the scrap heap in 1975, when the Galveston Historical Foundation and the Texas Seaport Museum bought her for forty thousand dollars. Museum Director Kurt Voss says they thought she could be restored for about a hundred thousand dollars but they were in for a shock.
"When she arrived back in Galveston in July '79 the restoration began in earnest, and she opened to the public July of 1982. Four and a half million dollars was invested to that point, and she's sailed ever since."
Volunteer crews take Elissa out in the Gulf of Mexico on day cruises in the spring and summer to keep her in top form as a floating museum. Voss says maintaining her costs a lot of money and they need all the help they can get because they can't take paying passengers.
,em>"Modern Coast Guard regulations are not written for 1877 sailing vessels, and to bring her under those regulations would compromise her historical integrity to such a degree we're just not willing to do that."
Elissa's home is in Galveston harbor behind the Texas Seaport Museum, where people can come aboard for public tours. Voss says that brings in a fair amount of money, but she's not quite self supporting. Seaport Museum admissions help pay the approximate one hundred thousand dollars it takes -- per year -- to keep her in good shape. Voss says they manage, but it's a struggle, and that's why they're setting up an Elissa Endowment, to ease that strain.
"And the idea is the generate enough money so that the earned income off that endowment will cover that budgeted deficit and make Elissa's future very secure. We've had good success always raising that difference, but an endowment would guarantee it and make her that much more secure."
The Texas Legislature declared the Elissa the Official Tall Ship of Texas last year, and the US Department of the Interior lists her as a National Historic Landmark and one of America's Treasures. A treasure in need of a little financial help. Jim Bell, Houston Public Radio News.