Built in 1877 in Scotland, at the beginning of the age of steam, the tall ship Elissa is one of the last of her kind — a 205-foot, three-masted, iron-hulled mighty sailing ship.
In 1886, the Elissa was arriving in port at the booming maritime city of Pensacola. She entered the harbor on her way to the Port of Pensacola, likely anchored alongside dozens of other 19th century tall ships, schooners, and longships. The ships commonly exported and imported goods such as lumber, bananas, cotton, and unloaded ballast rock from Europe, much of which makes up the waterfront land in downtown Pensacola today.
132 years later, the Elissa, now on the National Register of Historic Places, will return to Pensacola as part of an inaugural expedition.
Next spring, a fleet of historic tall ships — led by the Elissa — will depart the port of Galveston, racing across the Gulf Coast on an expedition to Pensacola.
The annual event called the Tall Ships Challenge racing series is hosted by Tall Ships America and will take place April 12 to 15. The fleet of seven traditionally rigged sailing ships hail from locations along the Gulf Coast, the Atlantic Coast, and Europe. After visitng Pensacola, the fleet will then sail to New Orleans.
“We are excited to expand the Tall Ships Challenge and its adjoining festivals and events to the Gulf Coast for the very first time,” said Tall Ships Challenge Manager Erin Short. “Pensacola has a rich history and bringing the tall ships here makes sense. The fleet hasn’t been to Pensacola before so this is a whole new festival for the city and ships, to get excited about. These festivals are a way to bring people downtown, showcase your waterfront to the visiting public and engage your community.”
The fleet will include four tallships that will be open to visitors adjacent to Plaza de Luna in downtown Pensacola. The other three ships will be available for sailaways that take visitors out on Pensacola Bay for one-hour tours.
While Pensacola was once one of the largest ports along the Gulf Coast and several hundred ships once called the port home every year, the city does not host a permanent museum ship in port. The Elissa is homeported in Galveston and, when in port, is open to visitors for tours and sailings. In the 1970s, the Galveston Historical Foundation purchased the ship for $40,000 and have subsequently spent millions restoring her to her former glory.
The primary sponsor for the stop in Pensacola is Visit Pensacola, the Pensacola Bay Area tourism agency. Officials hope to attract as many as 30,000 visitors to the event. If successful, Visit Pensacola officials said future opportunities to host another stop in the series could be possible.
Visit Pensacola officials said event details will be posted at visitpensacola.com/tall-ships/.