Texas Clipper Final Voyage

The original Texas Clipper -- which trained future sea-farers for 30 years at the Texas A&M Maritime Academy in Galveston -- is almost ready for her final voyage. In a few weeks, they'll sink her in the Gulf of Mexico where she'll be an artificial reef, and a new diving site for amateur divers. Houston Public Radio's Jim Bell reports.

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The World War Two era Texas Clipper was the Maritime Academy's floating classroom from 1964 till 1994, when she was taken out of service and placed in the mothball fleet in Beaumont. Now A&M is giving her to the Texas Parks and Wildlife's Ships to Reefs Program. Parks spokesman Tom Harvey says it takes a lot of work to get an old ship like the Clipper ready for Davy Jones' Locker, but that work is almost complete.

"Our department has contracted with a private company out of the Brownsville area to do a great deal of work to clean up the vessel, remove any inappropriate structures that might be hazardous for shipping or anything like that, and get it ready for deployment as an artificial reef off the southern coast of Texas."

The contractor is also stripping the ship inside and out, to make her a safe place for divers. Ships to Reefs Program Coordinator Dale Shively says that called for a lot of modifications.

"Masts have been cut down and rewelded in place on the deck of the ship. Windows have been opened, holes cut into walls so divers have access throughout the ship. And the funnel, or the stack has been removed, and the engine has been removed all the way down to the bottom of the ship."

Of all the old ships sent to the bottom in the Ships to Reefs program, Shively says the Texas Clipper is the only one that's been especially prepared for divers. More important, he says, is the Clipper's future as an artificial reef about 17 miles east of Port Isabel.

"Once that ship is on the bottom it will be colonated by settling organisms, like bryzoans and barnacles, and some corals, sponges. Fish species are attracted to structure, and once they become established on the ship itself, they will begin to reproduce and use that as their actual home."

Shively says the cleanup is about 99 percent complete and he thinks it can be finished sometime this month. But, under the ages-old first law of bureaucracies, no job is complete till the paperwork is done. The parks department has to get EPA approval for the scuttling and that could take at least another month. The actual sinking won't happen until late July at the earliest. Jim Bell, Houston Public Radio News.

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