From 1965 to 1994 the Texas Clipper served as a floating classroom for students from Texas Maritime Academy. The Academy is part of the Texas A&M University system which produces more officers than any college the military academies. Each summer the Texas Clipper would take 250 students, and faculty on cruises from Novia Scotia to Uruguay, and from Mexico to Poland.
Video of the ship being sunk off of Texas:
This was the final chapter in the ship which has led four different lives, she began as a warship, served as a cruise ship, a floating school and now a reef off of South Texas. Here is a short history of this historic ship…
USS Queens (1944-1946)
The Texas clipper was built at Sparrows Point, Maryland, and commissioned in December 1944. She began life as the U.S.S. Queens (APA-103) a C2-S-A3 Attack Transport. She carried troops and cargo in the Pacific theater including Iwo Jima, and brought many men home at the end of the war.
SS Excambion (1948-1959)
The USS Queens was decommissioned in 1946 and spent a year moored in Virginia before American Export Lines refitted her and renamed her the SS Excambion, a cruise ship for cargo and passengers heading to the Mediterranean.
She had her maiden voyage as a combination freight/cruise ship on December 3, 1948. . Fares started at $850. On routine 6-week roundtrips, the ship carried a crew of 125 and up to 125 passengers from New York City to Mediterranean ports like Barcelona, Marseille, Naples, Beirut, Alexandria, Iskenderun, Latakia, Piraeus,
She served as a combination cruise liner/cargo vessel. The advent of the jet airliner doomed the Excambion, as well as many other passenger ships to unprofitability. The Excambion was taken out of service.
USTS Texas Clipper (1965-1996)
The ship spent seven years laid up in the Hudson River before what is now Texas A&M-Galveston took her over to train cadets for the American merchant marine.
In the mid-60’s, the Excambion returned to service as a training ship. Renamed the U.S.T.S. Texas Clipper, she began training merchant mariners, taking cadets to ports from Novia Scotia to Uruguay, and from Mexico to Poland. For more than 25 years, The Texas Clipper tirelessly plied the seas each summer.
The Texas Clipper departed on its maiden voyage to Northern Europe with about 120 cadets on June 15, 1965. The ship’s itinerary changed each year to ports in the Gulf of Mexico, Caribbean, Atlantic, Pacific, Arctic, and Mediterranean. It carried a complement of up to 250 officers, faculty members, crew and cadets. One of its more popular programs was the onboard prep–cadet summer school at sea: freshmen enrolled in two college courses, stood watches, and helped maintain the ship.
Her final cruise was the summer of 1994. Departing Galveston, TX, the Texas Clipper traveled across the equator to Montevideo, Uruguay. Turning back north, she stopped at the islands of Curacau, Guadalupe, and Purto Rico before returning to Galveston.
For the next two years, it was used as a dockside dormitory for Seaborne Conservation Corps, an educational and job training program for at risk high school students.
By the time it was placed in the reserve fleet in 1996, the oldest active ship in the entire American merchant marine fleet was Texas Clipper.
Artificial Reef (2007-Present)
The Texas Clipper was sunk 17 nautical miles offshore and 134 feet underwater as boatloads of fans and media looked on. The controlled sinking was delayed several days because of weather, as part of a project 10 years in the making. The project cost $4 million dollars, according to Texas Artificial Reef Program coordinator Dale Shively. As part of the clean up toxic materials including insulation were removed and oil from the tanks were sandblasted clean. In Brownsville masts are reduced in height to assure a 50–ft clearance above her. Wiring and electrical components are being removed, along with other materials that might provide a source of contaminants, as the ocean claims her through weathering and corrosion. Any materials that would float if dislodged from the ship are being removed. All substances that might result in environmental contamination will be removed. Holes are to be positioned at strategic points to ensure adherence to the sinking plan and to provide for water flow. Hatches will be removed or welded shut, and sometimes cut to new specifications for safe passage of divers.
The site where she is resting was approved by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Seventeen miles from Pass Santiago in 134 ft of clear blue water, she was placed on a barren sandy bottom of the Gulf of Mexico. Barnacles, corals, sponges, clams, bryozoans and hydroids will eventually take their stations on her hard surfaces.
Artificial reefs are said to be like oases in the desert, creating a latch-on place for invertebrates such as barnacles, clams, corals and sponges. They in turn serve as a feeding ground for reef fish, such as snapper and grouper, and transient species such as mackerel, shark and billfish.
The Artificial Reef Program now comprises oil and gas rigs; sunken concrete culverts and bridge pieces; and ships, beginning in the 1970s with the sinking of 12 World War II-era Liberty ships.
“The benefits — to the local fishery, to the economy of South Texas, and to ongoing science — are tremendous,” said TPWD Coastal Fisheries Division Director Larry D. McKinney, Ph.D. “The only reason we don’t have more of these complex reef communities in waters off Texas is because we lack the hard substrate that corals and other reef organisms need to get established. We can provide that with artificial reefs — whether former oil production platforms, concrete culverts or something as magnificent as this ship.
Fishes and mobile invertebrates such as rock crabs will come to feast on this bounty she attracts. We will also benefit from her bounty. Anglers will be drawn to the surface above and divers will seek her beauty below as she supports their pursuits. She will add to the marine environment as well as the South Texas economy. Her proud traditions of maritime heritage will be remembered, and her new role as an artificial reef will enhance her legacy to the future.
Cleaning up for the reefing
The final trip for the Texas Clipper
Her specifications were:
Horsepower: 8,000 s.h.p.
Displacement 7,970 tons.(lt) 13,143 t.(fl)
Length 473′ 1″
Cargo Capacity 150,000 cu. ft, 1600 tons
one 5″/38 dual purpose gun mount
two single 40mm AA gun mounts
two twin 20mm AA gun mounts
eighteen single 20mm AA gun mounts
Propulsion 2 Babcock & Wilcox steam turbines, 8,800shp, 6.473KW