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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, February 13, 2005

A 40-year love affair with a ship

By Bob Krauss
Advertiser Columnist

I should have done it a long time ago. But when you've been living with a lady for 40 years, you forget what a great story she is. Ever since I helped save the Falls of Clyde, I've been stuck with her. We've been going steady since 1963.

People would say, "Why don't you write a book?" And I'd say, "Who would read it?" They'd say, "Lots of people. Whenever you talk about the ship, people are fascinated."

It's true. How the people of Honolulu rescued a rusty hulk from being sunk as a breakwater is the stuff of legend. It was an impossible dream that came true. For me, it was only a beginning. The ship introduced me to the marvelous, colorful characters on Honolulu's waterfront.

The waterfront is one of Our Honolulu's most fascinating communities, and the Falls of Clyde has become its soul. It was Kenny Brown who finally talked me into writing the book. I learned when the Falls of Clyde was born in 1878 in Port Glasgow, her womb a teeming, raucous, smoky shipyard. I learned that what's special about the Falls of Clyde is the people who sailed in her. Take 15-year-old Arthur Roland, a teenager with a behavior problem in 1880. He sang like an angel in the church choir.

His uncle, Michael Breckenridge, owned the Falls of Clyde. Breckenridge had no children. When he listened to his nephew sing, he felt that all the boy needed was discipline. Why not send him to sea? If the boy did well, he might take over the company some day.

So Arthur Roland went on two voyages to India in the Falls of Clyde as an apprentice and left a diary that is an absolute howl. He and the other apprentices waged war on the captain, an old reprobate who gave as good as he got. The stories about the Falls of Clyde band are a riot, like the concert they gave in Calcutta.

Picture a drum made from a flour barrel, a banjo, accordion, concertina, two tin whistles, three harmonicas, sleigh bells, sheets of sandpaper and a clarinet.

That's in the first part. The Falls of Clyde sailed in and out of Honolulu from 1899 to 1920. One female passenger invaded the galley and baked a cake for the captain. The first mate in 1916-17, Fred Klebingat, later told marvelous stories about our waterfront saloons like the Blue Anchor, with Napoleon Bonaparte's uniform on the wall and a stuffed iguana hanging over the bar.

The Falls of Clyde was Fred's lady friend. Capt. William Smith, a little Scotsman in baggy pants, was in love with her. He caressed her rail when she was sailing well and called her a "whoor who has lost your profession" when she refused to behave.

It's all in the book, and I had a whale of a time writing it. You can buy it at bookstores. The royalties, if there are any, will go to the Falls of Clyde endowment fund. I'll talk about it at the Bishop Museum Family Sunday event this afternoon.