Weekender: New Sail for Elissa Symbolizes the Rebirth of Galveston
By Charles Lohrmann
Against the backdrop of the ghastly destruction that Hurricane Ike dealt to Galveston Island in September 2008, a single lost sail—even on an historic ship—seems like modest punishment. In fact, such a shred of not-so-bad news paints a silver lining on the cloud of the overall grim storm situation. In this case, the subsequent repair project for Galveston’s 1877-vintage sailing ship Elissa grew into a hopeful sign: a symbolic rebirth.
Certainly the members of the Galveston Historical Foundation, the organization that owns and cares for Elissa, held their collective breath after the storm as they waited to determine how seriously the wind and water had attacked Elissa. Dwayne Jones, executive director of the GHF, explains, “After the storm, it was several days before we could get in and assess the damage. Basically, the special hurricane moorings held as they should and Elissa did what she was supposed to do, which is rise and fall with the water level. She survived the storm relatively unscathed.”
But even a single sail can be a major undertaking. A nationally recognized sailmaker, Jim Brink, who sewed the original suit of sails for the Elissa more than 20 years ago (and consulted on all three films in the Pirates of the Caribbean series), was called in to work on the replacement sail. Brink pieced the fabric together on the floor of the ballroom in another GHF property, Ashton Villa. Once assembled in the correct shape, the sail was moved over to the Seaport Museum where the seams were sewn on a machine in the auditorium.
But such expertise as Brink’s isn’t without strings attached. Funds had to be raised. To address the challenge, Jones explains, “All the volunteers, people who train to sail the Elissa—and there are several hundred of those—actually raised the money to pay for the sail themselves.”
Longtime Elissa volunteer John Moran of Houston explains, “Repairing the sail damage cost about $6,000, and volunteers raised more than $5,000 of that with a gumbo dinner benefit.” He adds, “Elissa fared much better than anyplace else on the island during the storm. She broke some stern lines, and flying debris damaged the rigging.”
The sail restoration project took on a symbolic importance to the rejuvenation of the island. Jones says, “I told them every day, ‘The Elissa is a symbol of survival; she’s a symbol of rebirth.’”
Pitch in for Galveston
Make community service part of your vacation getaway.
Galveston Island is 50 miles southeast of Houston. To plan a visit, contact:
Note that Galveston Island State Park is open weekends for day-use only on the bay side of the park.
From the June 2009 issue.