FOR years the last iron-hulled four-masted sailing ship of her kind has languished in foreign waters, embroiled in a wrangle over her ownership and upkeep while her hull has slowly rotted.

It might have been far easier to drag the Falls of Clyde out of Honolulu Harbour to be scuttled at sea.

Instead, in a remarkable display of passion for her once graceful lines, deep pride in her Scottish roots and sheer determination it seems the Port Glasgow-built vessel is now within touching distance of what would be a triumphant return to the waters of the Clyde.

According to David O’Neill, who leads Save Falls of Clyde International, the 266ft, four-masted iron-hulled former workhorse of the seas, could be home in time for next year’s COP26 environmental gathering – a poignant return for a vessel which once used nothing other than the power of the wind and forces of the sea to conquer the waves.

The vessel’s homecoming will be a chance to celebrate Clyde maritime heritage, much of it lost but which, if the efforts of a determined few are realised, could be set for something of a revival.

For while in Hawaii efforts are underway with US-based ship preservation experts and international technology companies which specialise in hydrogen and electric power to revamp the vessel, in Glasgow plans are afoot to transform the Govan docks area into a maritime heritage hub.

If the ambitious vision to revive Govan’s historic Graving Docks goes ahead, the Falls of Clyde will become one of the first vessels to rest at its Category A Listed No 1 dock in more than 30 years.

Constructed between 1869 and 1875, the dock could also go on to provide space for other historic vessels such as the Waverley paddle steamer, the TS Queen Mary – currently being restored at Pacific Quay - and Glenlee to undergo repairs.

While the neighbouring No2 or No3 docks could become home for an exhibition vessel – possibly a Clyde-built naval warship, providing a tourist attraction similar to HMS Belfast in London.

Proposals put together by dock developers New City Vision includes converting the last remaining pumphouse on the site into a maritime heritage visitor centre and reviving a long lost lane which once connected Govan Road with the water’s edge, providing a platform to view vessels undergoing work at No1 dock.

Talks between the Falls of Clyde campaigners and the developers have sparked hopes that the vessel could be in place in No1 dock within the next 12 months, ready to be refitted and eventually set back out to sea as a gleaming eco-friendly ship.

Once restored and fitted with new eco-friendly sailing system, the hope is she can become a floating education centre for young people from deprived or challenged backgrounds, sailing around the world collecting Fair Trade cargo, scooping up plastic waste as she goes.

While further ahead there are hopes that the Falls of Clyde can recreate the Clipper Tea Races made famous by the Dumbarton-built sea legend ‘Cutty Sark’.

“We have been engaging tea growers, exporters, importers and retail brands to invite interest in a future planned annual race,” reveals David McNeill, of Glasgow-based Falls of Clyde International.

“This would mean two tall ships meeting in China, taking on a cargo of tea then racing across the globe, with pre-set stops in tea producing states, celebrating the heritage of this time gone by.

“The Falls of Clyde is not planned as a static museum in Glasgow,” he stresses.

“Instead, we are ambitious enough to believe that she can be rebuilt to offer opportunities to communities across Scotland.

“She would be based in Glasgow, regularly sailing from here carrying ethical cargo, carrying students being educated at sea, while bringing in recyclable material collected at sea such as ghost nets and general plastic waste.

“Should we succeed with the Falls of Clyde, we have our eyes already on two other vessels currently located overseas, which like the Falls of Clyde could be rebuilt and repurposed.”

After years of stalement, it’s now hoped that the ship, built in 1878 and which sailed every continent apart from Antarctica before settling on a regular route between Hawaii and the North American Pacific coast, can return to Glasgow by COP26 next November.

“The Falls of Clyde could become a major attraction showing the world what Scotland is capable of and what ambition can achieve for communities and the environment,” he adds.