One of Galveston’s jewels is the barque Elissa, a three-masted tall ship built in the 19th century, the ship has been on display for so long — 27 years — it is easy to think she has been there forever.
Yet the ship found its Pier 21 berth in Galveston’s harbor only after a series of adventures that nearly ended its existence.
The story of Elissa’s discovery, purchase and restoration is worth reading about, as is its prior history.
Kurt Voss, the former director of the Texas Seaport Museum, tells the story in “Galveston’s The Elissa: The Tall Ship of Texas.”
The book is only 124 pages, but it is as comprehensive a history as can be found.
Voss starts from the Elissa’s construction in 1877 and follows it forward to the present — including adventures during Hurricane Ike.
It is copiously illustrated with 200 black and white photographs.
This includes many rare photographs of the Elissa’s early years.
The chapters that discuss Elissa during the period when it was a working sailing ship are punctuated by pictures of the yard in which it was constructed, of the original owners, and of the Elissa itself.
Voss follows the ship’s history after the original owner sold her during its years among Scandinavian owners.
He trails the ship through its numerous changes of owners, names and rig.
There is also a section about Elissa’s nadir — when as a motorship, it smuggled cigarettes into Italy.
There, it was discovered by a pair of sailing ship enthusiasts who recognized the tall ship hidden under the motorship.
This eventually led to the ship’s preservation and restoration.
Ship enthusiasts will find the sections detailing the restoration of the ship fascinating.
All aspects of this work are covered and illustrated, from the initial repairs to the final rigging out of the ship.
After these are chapters on Elissa’s career as a sailing museum ship.
This includes its trip to New York in 1986 as part of Operation Sail, through escorting USS Texas into Galveston for its 2006 commissioning ceremony.
This book should appeal to those with a casual interest in Elissa as well.
Voss focuses on the people behind the Elissa as much as on the ship itself.
Readers get to meet people as diverse as the family of Elissa’s builder and first owner to the volunteers who help man the ship today.
“Galveston’s The Elissa” is worth attention.
Mark Lardas, an engineer, freelance writer, amateur historian and model-maker, lives in League City.
Author Kurt D. Voss, the former director of the Texas Seaport Museum, will sign copies of his book, “Galveston’s the Elissa: The Tall Ship of Texas,” at 6 p.m. Saturday at the Texas Seaport Museum, 2200 Harborside, in Galveston.