TALL SHIPS® GALVESTON Brings History to Life on the Island in 2018

By Kyle Beam

History will come alive for Galveston, in 2018, as the seas turn back the clock to welcome the 2018 Tall Ships Challenge®. Produced by Galveston Historical Foundation, TALL SHIPS® GALVESTON will be held April 5-8, 2018.

The Tall Ships Challenge® is a series of annual events organized by Tall Ships America® to promote their mission of “encouraging character building through sail training, to promote sail training to the North American public and support education under sail.”
For 2018, the challenge will begin in Galveston on April 5-8 and continue to three other ports: New Orleans, Louisiana; Pensacola, Florida; and St. Petersburg, Florida over the following several weeks.

The Challenge brings together 18-19th century style traditional sailing ships from around the world. The vessels participating in the festival will be both private and foreign military vessels. Joining the ships for the Challenge will be Galveston’s own tall ship, the ELISSA.
At each port of call, a festival celebrating the history and beauty of sailing will take place. The ships will have the opportunity to race between each of the ports with a celebration in each city beckoning their arrival and officially kicking off the festival. In 2018, Galveston will be the starting point of the challenge. At each stop a local organization is responsible for coordinating the challenge. For the Galveston stop, that responsibility falls on the shoulders of the keepers of the ELISSA, Galveston Historical Foundation.

Galveston Historical Foundation is thrilled the event will be occurring in Galveston for the first time, and they are eagerly anticipating showing off the city’s commitment to sailing and to the maritime industry as a whole. Mark Scibinico, the port captain at the foundation’s Texas Seaport Museum, said, “[the challenge] will be a cool event to bring in a lot of people.” He cited the public tours of the USS Gabrielle Giffords as a small potential of the number of people the event could bring in. During the public tours, which were not promoted for the USS Gabrielle Giffords, the wait time was as long as three hours to tour the vessel because of the overwhelming demand. But with the possibility of up to eight ships available for tours, he does not anticipate the wait time being long for the public.

Scibinico said, “When you have three or four sailing ships together it takes you back in time.” The attendees to the festival will be rewarded, not just with ship tours, but other special events, music and food in a family friendly environment.

The festival will also put a large emphasis on sail training, key to the mission of Tall Ships America®, and the opportunity for attendees to take training classes and truly experience what it is like on a traditional sailing boat. As Scibinico put it, “Nothing challenges you like getting on a traditional tall sailing ship.”

Scibinico is able to speak from experience because of the work and trips he has done on the ELISSA. He will be able to add even more to that experience in 2018 when he travels with the ELISSA as it takes part in the Challenge.

The story of the ELISSA is a unique one. According to Galveston Historical Foundation’s website, “Elissa is a three-masted, iron-hulled sailing ship built in 1877 in Aberdeen, Scotland by Alexander Hall & Company. She carries nineteen sails covering over one-quarter of an acre in surface area. Tall ships are classified by the configuration of their sailing rig. In the case of ELISSA, she is a ‘barque’ because she carries square and fore-and-aft sails on her fore and mainmasts, but only fore-and-aft sails on her mizzenmast. From her stern to the tip of her jibboom she measures 205 feet. Her height is 99 feet, 9 inches at the main mast and she displaces about 620 tons at her current ballast.”

ELISSA was a working cargo ship for many years, carrying a variety of cargo to ports all over the world for several different owners. But as the commercial shipping industry changed, the need for tall sailing ships grew obsolete and Elissa was sent to the scrap yard in Piraeus Harbor, Greece. She was saved by a variety of ship preservationists and eventually brought to Galveston in the 1970s, where she was restored and returned to sailing shape. ELISSA remains as one of the oldest sailing ships in the world still going to sea.

For ELISSA, the Challenge will be like traveling in time for her as well as it recreates a journey she made over 100 years ago. When she was a commercial ship, ELISSA is known to have made two stops in Galveston. After one of the stops her journey continued to Pensacola, Florida. Now as a part of the challenge she will make the journey again. This time with a new crew headed by Mark Scibinico, but the journey will be made in the same way as it was done before with only the wind and the sea for power.

The Tall Ships Challenge® will be a test of both the ships and their crews. As we have seen and read in books and movies over the years, the seas can be a rough but rewarding place. It is an expanse people have had a love of for centuries. The challenge and the festivals that will take place in each port look to continue to grow that love, so generations to come will appreciate them as well.

As the first stop on the challenge, the pressure and expectations will be high in Galveston, but the staff and volunteers at Galveston Historical Foundation are ready to exceed all expectations. The Foundation is filled with anticipation and excited to take the public on a journey back in time on the seas that would make even a mad man in a blue police box envious.

Editor’s Note: Galveston Historical Foundation is looking for volunteers and sponsors to ensure the Galveston stop is a rousing success. For more information on ways you or your company can contribute please contact Mark Scibinico at 409-763-1877 or mark.scibinico@galvestonhistory.org for more information.

Photo Courtesy of TallShips America


  • Date October 25, 2017
  • Tags October 2017