Against All Odds

Good morning everyone. I am home at last after two weeks in Galveston, TX sailing aboard the barque Elissa. Frequent flyers on this blog know this is an annual trip for me. The barque Elissa is a very special ship, a “project” of the Galveston Historical Foundation and the Texas Seaport Museum. When I saw pictures of the devastation left by Hurricane Ike I had very strong doubts about how the volunteers who sustain Elissa could ever put the boat and the docks back together in time for her annual spring sea trials. Well, they did it! Once again determination and will win against all odds.

And that is the story of boats. Late this afternoon a new crew will come together for the first time aboard Mary Day and fit-out will begin in earnest. As I look at the work list ahead of us I am just a little over whelmed. There are always more things to do than there is time to do them. The weather this next week doesn’t look as warm and sunny as I would like so working and living aboard will be challenging. But somehow we will pull it off with some combination of will, determination and luck. Come Memorial Day weekend Mary Day will glisten as usual. We will be more than ready to cast off her lines and feel the wind in the sails. The blog for the next few months will keep you updated on progress and introduce you to the crew. I am excited to meet them and watch the mystery of a new season unfold.

Have a great day. Be well. Do good.


  1. Welcome home Captain. As a frequent flyer I was wondering if the recent paucity of blog entries meant you were in Galveston. I was also concerned about the fate of the Elissa. A visit to the Texas Seaport Museum website left me somewhat assured that she survived Hurricane Ike.

    I certainly look forward to learning more about this year’s fit-out and getting to know the crew. Of course what I am really looking forward to is July and my week aboard the Mary Day.

  2. I came across a blog that had a link to a video clip by the sailmaker for the Elissa. I understand that the fore lower topsail was severely damaged by Hurricane Ike and had to be replaced. The video showed some of the work that goes into making a sail. Even with modern sewing machines it is a very laborious process. The total time to make the sail was about three weeks.

  3. Here is the link to the Blog and video Al mentioned. Fred LeBlanc’s blog has the video.

    This makes me even more appreciative of the effort that went into ship building and sail making before the advent of mechanized equipment. It is difficult for me to imagine hand sawing logs to create the planks used to build a hull for a 70 gun ship of the line more than 150 feet long. Then there are the masts, anchors, miles of line of all sorts and sizes, and acres of sail. All made with what today we consider very rudimentary machines powered by men and perhaps animals.

  4. Hi Ed and Al,

    I appreciate your thoughts. The phrase “wooden ships and iron men” comes to mind. Sailors were a heck of a lot physically tougher way back when. Elissa sailed around the world with 18 people. The Coast Guard mandates a crew of 40 nowadays. So times are different but don’t read judgement into that comment. People are what people have always been. At our best we are kind and compassionate to each during challenging times. Galveston and the surrounding areas were absolutely devastated by Hurricane Ike. I heard the statistic that 60% of the island businesses still have not rebuilt and may be a long time returning. Check out this link to see what happened to the Bolivar Peninsula: To see how the volunteers and community have rallied to bring Galveston and Elissa back to life is so heart warming. All this energy generated around a ship. One might think it a frivolous waste when so many are still displaced from their home. But 20,000 people hours of volunteer time speaks of inspiration beyond what any boat can create. It speaks of the people and the community that surrounds the boat… not the boat itself. Comments I hear when I get back home suggest that I was somehow on a vacation and not engaged in something far larger than myself. Well, as those of you who have committed your life to anything beyond yourself ( a relationship, a community, or any cause that brings no great monetary reward) know, the reward is intangible and unfathomable. I am only in Galveston a few weeks a year so I am not really a deep part of the community but I do admire and am inspired by the volunteers and staff of GHF and TSM. They are good people keeping alive a wonderful ship and its history and in that effort keeping alive the reverence for community that makes our human experience so wonderful. I am sorry that any community is valued through the magnifying glass of catastrophe.

    We lost a young fire fighter on my department the day before I left for TX. I missed his funeral at the fire station where over 500 people filled the truck bays and poured out the apron to the street in honor of a happy young man whose candle was snuffed out before anyone ever expected. His was one fire none of us ever wanted to see put out. But in his wake, like the wake of a ship, or the wake of a hurricane, we will heal ourselves and I hope we live our lives with just a little more reverence and compassion for each other and our communities.

    I am some glad to be home.

    Be well. Do good. Enjoy your community.


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