Time is running out for a historic Clyde-built windjammer trapped in Honolulu Harbour. The Falls of Clyde was built in Port Glasgow in 1878 but is now languishing abroad and being stripped of supplies with fears she is facing dismantlement. Sandra Dick reports.

She rests in her berth within the calm waters of Honolulu harbour, her red, white and blue striped hull showing signs of her grand age under the bright Hawaiian sun, her once billowing sails long gone.

As if to add to her sad air, 19th-century windjammer, Falls of Clyde, is overshadowed by a glossy neighbour; bedecked with flags and with the option for diners to spend $200 per head at captain’s table for an evening, the glitzy Star of Honolulu could scarcely be a less sympathetic companion.

But what the faded Clyde-built workhorse of the seas lacks in polish and pizazz, she makes up for in history and heritage as the last iron-hulled four-masted sailing ship of her kind.

Sadly, however, a decade of wrangling and shattered dreams has brought the Port Glasgow-built ship to her knees.

And time appears to be running out on ambitious plans to bring her home to be reborn as a 21st century, carbon-free education and working vessel.

Hopes were high that the world’s only vessel of her kind, a proud workhorse that once carried oil, sugar, cargo and passengers between Hawaii and California, could be plucked from the spot where she’s been slowly decaying for years, placed on the back of a massive heavy lift ship and transported home in triumph by next spring.

However, the group battling to save her in Hawaii have now been told to clear personal items off the ship and remove their lock, suggesting authorities are set to begin the task of dismantling her.

That move follows emergency repairs in February after the ship started to take in water. To add to her woes, there are also fears that hurricane season – now in full swing – could leave her fatally wounded in her Honolulu berth.

It’s a sad finale for a ship which was once the Hawaiian equivalent of the Glenlee on the Clyde. Run for years as a museum and designated a US Historic National Landmark in 1989, her condition began to deteriorate despite her owners receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars to help revive and restore her.

As fears grew that she would be scuttled, she was handed to the Hawaii-based Friends of Falls of Clyde. But a struggle by the non-profit group to raise cash led to the harbour authorities removing her permit to moor at Pier Seven.

Regarded as too frail to simply sail her away from her berth, she has remained in limbo while supporters battle for funds and help from the shipping community.

An attempt by Hawaii authorities to bring matters to a head by auctioning Falls of Clyde earlier this year failed to attract any bids, possibly because of the $1.5 million bond required from any new owners to ensure her safe departure from the harbour.

A statement from Friends of Falls of Clyde posted on Facebook said: “The Harbors Division has asked us to remove property from the ship that we consider personal property, which we interpret as including many of the historic artefacts and documents that must be preserved.

“They have also asked us to remove our lock from the gate that gives them total control over access to the pier and ship.

“We believe we still have rights as legal owner and are seeking legal advice to counter the steps Harbors Division is taking.”

Yet while her future looks grim, supporters closer to home say there may still be a slight glimmer of hope.

David O’Neill of Glasgow-based Save Falls of Clyde International, believes Hawaiian authorities are in a Catch 22 situation: apart from the costs involved, towing her to sea raises fears she might crumble and block the harbour, and the risk of pollution is too high to dismantle her where she sits.

He hopes frustrated authorities will have little option but to work hand in hand with supporters who want to raise her onto the back of another vessel and sail her to a better future.

“We are relying on the harbour authorities giving us time and to buy into what we are trying to do,” he said. “They have been threatening to dispose of her for 10 years, but it will cost them up to $2 million to take her out of the harbour and sink her.

“They have to make her seaworthy first, or risk blocking the harbour if she sinks. They would face a tremendous cost if that happened, so we have suggested working together to share the cost and save the Hawaiian taxpayers’ money to remove a ship they see as an eyesore.”

Whatever the outcome, it is a miserable chapter for a vessel built at the A.E. Russell yard in Port Glasgow in 1878 and which sailed every continent apart from Antarctica before settling on a regular route between Hawaii and the North American Pacific coast.

Originally expected to have a working life of around 40 years, she was modified to operate as a sail-driven oil tanker – the only one of her kind – and worked as a passenger ship and cargo vessel.

Stretching to 266ft with a wrought iron hull and four sailing masts, she accumulated many Hawaiian supporters proud of her role in the state’s maritime history. When her sailing days ended with the threat of being scuttled, she was towed to Honolulu in 1963 to become a floating museum and event space, sitting proudly alongside the Aloha Tower Marketplace in the picturesque harbour.

Plans to fully restore her came and went. Sir William Lithgow, whose Port Glasgow shipyard donated new steel masts and other parts, and hundreds of thousands of dollars were raised.

However, supporters say even basic maintenance wasn’t carried out and some superficial work actually damaged the vessel. Threatened again with being sunk, her local supporters regrouped to take over ownership amid hopes of raising money to carry out repairs and restoration.

However, money has not materialised and one effort which involved persuading a specialist ship to travel to Honolulu to lift her from her berth, collapsed when it was found to be too large to enter the harbour.

Even if Hawaiian authorities work with campaigners to cover the estimated $1.5 million costs of bringing her back to the UK, an ambitious four years restoration programme would require millions more.

Nevertheless, Mr O’Neill insists sponsors can be found to help pay for a new hydrogen power system, solar sails, solar power, wind turbines and battery storage system, in return for advertising space on the historic vessel’s hull, mass and decks.

Naval architecture students from Strathclyde University have been involved in drawing up redesign plans, while Mr O’Neill believes she has potential to become a Port Glasgow tourist attraction during her refit, with an accompanying museum telling the story of shipbuilding on the Clyde and quayside attractions.

Once complete, the gleaming eco-friendly vessel could be put to use as a floating education centre for young people from deprived or challenged backgrounds, who would sail around the world to collect up to 2000 tons of Fair Trade cargo.

Mr O’Neill also suggests the vessel could double up as an adventure holiday experience, with fee-paying passengers either cruising in the traditional cabins or helping to sail her, climbing masts, lowering sails and baling cargo.

At the same time, he suggests recycling facilities on board could help her play an environmental role, scooping up plastic waste as she sails.

“We will take this 19th-century ship and pack her with 21st-century technology to benefit the environment and communities across the UK,” he added. “We want her to come back and then be put back to sea to earn a living.”

Exciting as the plans are, Hawaiian authorities and Mother Nature may have alternative ideas.

“Hurricane season starts very soon, but she has been there for 50 hurricane seasons and survived so far,” insists Mr O’Neill.

“We are confident now that we can do this and raise the funding we need.

“We need the Hawaiian authorities to realise this is a serious project and to give us a little more time.”