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The life and death of the Texas Clipper

Texas ClipperFrom 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.

Texas Clipper

Texas Clipper

More about the USS Queens

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.

Texas Clipper

More about the Excambion

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.

Texas Clipper

Texas Clipper

More about the Texas Clipper

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.

Texas Clipper

Texas Clipper

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

Texas Clipper

Texas Clipper

Texas Clipper

More Pics of the Texas Clipper ready for sinking

The final trip for the Texas Clipper

Texas Clipper

Texas Clipper

Texas Clipper

Texas Clipper

Texas Clipper

Texas Clipper

Texas Clipper

Texas Clipper

Texas Clipper

Under water

Texas Clipper

Texas Clipper

Texas Clipper

Her specifications were:

Horsepower: 8,000 s.h.p.

Displacement 7,970 tons.(lt) 13,143 t.(fl)
Length 473′ 1″
Beam 66′
Draft 25′
42 Officers
434 Enlisted
Troop Accommodations
94 Officers
1463 Enlisted
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

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Posted By: Jerome Aronson

News Category: Abandoned, News


12 Responses to “The life and death of the Texas Clipper”

  1. excelent

    José Luis Rocha Vera on 24 Dec 2007 at 12:43 pm
  2. I found this very interesting. My dad was a Petty Office on the Queens in WWII.

    BJ VOORHEES on 28 Oct 2009 at 1:39 pm
  3. During the summer of 1956 My family returned to the U.S. on the Excambion and stopped at most of the ports mentioned. Just by chance tonight I googled Excambion and I was so excited to bring it up. We have a picture on the ship standing in front of a white life saver with the name on it.

    Sad about the demise.

    Sarah Bertsch

    sarah bertsch on 26 Apr 2010 at 8:35 pm
  4. […] done a fair amount of traveling in my life. When I was 19 I was at the helm of a steam ship as it made its way up the Mississippi – I’ll have to tell that story some time. But it’s the […]

  5. My Dad served on the USS Queens from 1943-1946. This info is great. My husband and I live in San Marcos, Tx. We have gone down to Padre Island on many occassions to camp on the beach as well. I never knew about the sinking of it there 17 miles out. I am glad I have this info as my dad passed away in Aug. of 2001 of cancer. His mane was Robert Wesley Hunt.

    Sharon L. (HUNT)yount on 11 Jul 2011 at 9:25 am
  6. I sailed on her during the summer of 1985 with the Summer at Sea program at Texas A&M. Even then when we would pull into a port, I noticed everybody stopping what they were doing and watching us. It was if they were seeing a living ghost. Our ports of call were Bermuda, The Canary Islands, Naples Italy, Cadiz Spain and the Azores Islands.
    While our tour only lasted 6 weeks. It was an incredible time and I have numerous pictures of this fine ship.

    Frank McKay on 19 Jul 2011 at 12:25 pm
  7. I was on the Clipper in the summer of 1985 as well…..think I remember you frank…..did u have blonde hair then?

    John Corley on 01 Dec 2011 at 11:51 am
  8. Captain Ford, Head MART, cries along with 2,000 TAMUG Cadets.
    This end hurts. Its the last of the TAMUG’s pure US Merchant Maine era.
    We made some wonderful memories, voyages & shipmates.
    I think of the Cadets & “Clipper” every day.

    Captain’s compliments to all who sailed her.

    Captain S. F. Ford on 19 Nov 2012 at 12:17 pm
  9. i was a part of the whole stripping down of the ol clipper i was the rigger for the crane oparators El Canyon and for El Sr. Mata. it was a great experance

    juan mendieta on 17 May 2013 at 11:13 am
  10. Was there to see it,was great…..

    KB5ZCS on 21 Aug 2018 at 11:39 am
  11. KB5ZCS, that is awesome!

    Michael on 21 Aug 2018 at 6:04 pm
  12. Summer 1985
    One of the best experiences of my life traveling aboard the Texas Clipper.
    Cadets did a three-day circuit onboard. As a “Deckie” I enjoyed learning in class signals, knots, sailing, flags, morse code, terrestrial navigation mapping, working with a sextant for celestial navigation, and finding Zodiac signs, such as Scorpius at sunset. Between classes, we’d have fun chipping paint or being at the helm. Sometimes I would wander back to the stern bar for an ice cream.

    For my 22nd birthday, I received a fishing pole gift from my parents. I tied on a 15 ft steel leader with a green and yellow feather. After leaving Galveston we crossed over the “Garden” off the coast of Texas. Soon I hooked into a table size Dorado. I brought the beautiful fish up to the surface, however, we were doing close to over 8 knots. The Clipper only did between 15-17 knots on a good day.
    Then the fish came up and dove again going deep in the opposite direction.
    As the fish then took another dive I went to grab my pole the line ripped through my palm cutting the skin and bleeding. The Boatswain mate took out his knife and asked if I needed my line cut? I stood my ground and tried reeling in the Dorado again. Then nothing. I reeled in my line. I saw my line flapping in the wind and the leader was broken. That was a great fight put on by that Dorado.
    I put away my pole for another day and reflected on what just occurred.
    I was somewhat happy knowing one day I would cast my line again.

    We first docked in Bermuda. It was a small harbor for docking. I remember riding scooters, snorkeling, and sneaking Coconut Rum back onto the Clipper.
    I traded a bottle with a friend for Sting’s new CD album The Dream of the Blue Turtles, great music to listen to as we crossed the ocean with a smooth glass of rum.
    For ten days I was painting the forward crows’ nest/mast as we crossed the Atlantic Ocean and headed to the Canary Islands. Our First Sergeant was younger than me, though he didn’t know much, however, he was somewhat in charge because he had more credits than myself. I graduated a year earlier from the New Mexico Military Institute with an AA in Business and gained valuable ARMY experience in their ROTC officer training program.
    I began my double major at TAMUG in Marine Transportation and Marine Biology.
    Our First Sergeant enjoyed his authority of the undergrads. He would often give cadets the opposite of what one would desire just to enjoy our disappointment.
    I worked this to my advantage. He had me go up every third day to paint the crow’s nest. The first time I came down for a break, he asked me if I liked it. Well, I loved it. Up high above the deck chipping and painting, sunshine, and alone. All by myself with my thoughts for a few hours each day.
    I used it as my form of meditation and enjoyed the solitude.
    So, I answered him back, “No Sir, I do not like being up in the crow’s nest.”
    He replied, “Well Baker, get used to it. Everyone else scared of heights.
    You’re going back up there in two days. It was hard to hold my emotions back.
    I smiled all the way back to the stern for ice cream.

    I knew my Mom and sister were traveling in Europe, so I decided to cover a few shifts of watch for a few fellow cadets, that I could use in Naples, Italy to spend time together.
    On the Island of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, B Company spent an afternoon at the southern beaches of Las Palmas. On a college budget, I ordered Calamari rings and a beer for $2. Soon my mate and I spotted two topless girls from Finland. We invited them over to our B Company beach party. The girls Emily, and Amelia accepted our invitation.
    Amelia invited me to go out dancing later that evening. As the sunset, I kissed Amelia goodbye and headed back to the boat to shower for the evening. All the night clubs were at the southern end of the island and would be very timely getting back and forth in a cab. However, when I got back word from the Clipper the cadets were explaining that the Captain decided to pull up anchor and we would leave at midnight. Well, that didn’t leave me much time for a round trip to the southern end and therefore squashed my plans with the Finnish gal.
    Always felt bad about not being able to explain. Sometimes life creates unanswered mysteries.

    So, the next morning we were off to Naples Italy and I met up with my Mom and sister in Naples. She bought us dinner and various fabric to sew clothes.
    Unfortunately, she later died of Leukemia. I still have the Italian blue, yellow, and white yarn.
    Maybe one day somebody will want the yarn to create a sailing sweater.
    My friend Kiki traveled with us by train to Rome. We visited the usual tourist sites: Statue of David, Trevi Fountain, Colosseum, and unfortunately the Sistine Chapel was closed for renovations.
    My kin took off for Paris, and Kiki and I took another train to Florence. Aboard the train we noticed two old guys dipping their bread in a glass of Lamberts wine.
    So we figured the old adage would apply here When in Rome do as the Romans do.
    The US dollar was strong in the summer of 1985.
    We found a two-bedroom hotel for $8 US a night across from an Embassy with colorful world flags waving against the blue sky. We had to share a bath/shower with our neighbors across the hall from Australia. The father brought his wife and daughter on vacation to see Italy. He was originally from Hungary and escaped during WWII. As I listened to his stories we drank Amaretto and he expressed his anger of war and for having to flee his homeland by referring to the Germans as “Square Heads.” During his war stories, he often repeated, “Piss off Square Heads.” He referred to the Germans as “Square Heads” because of their helmets. I think he was upset for being forced to leave his homeland.

    The next day we traveled around the town of Florence shopping at the flea market and stopping in an Italian Restaurant for a bite to eat. Kiki decided to order a pizza at lunch. The owner and Kiki began trying to translate and understand his description of a pizza. I advised him they don’t know what you’re talking about. Though Kiki tried to explain to the lady how to make a pizza, she still didn’t know what he was talking about. I shook my head and said just order off the menu, order what they know. I hear loud directions being addressed to the cook, maybe her husband. She then serves us our lunch.
    Oh boy!
    Kiki’s face is bewildered. He looks down at his pizza as he exclaims
    “It looks like a tostada with pizza sauce and some toppings.”
    Not what he expected. LOL!

    Back aboard the Clipper and sailed to Cadiz, Spain. My friend David and I then met two lovely Spaniard girls at the beach near Cadiz. About 9 PM they both came out with their whole family for a stroll down the boardwalk to watch the sunset. A family tradition in Cadiz. The girls winked at my mate and I. We arrived at midnight to the local club.
    The girls finally showed up just before 1 AM. We had a ball and everybody danced. The girls liked to go out late in Cadiz, party all night and sleep all day.
    The next day we met up again at the beach and took the girls out for a seafood dinner. We were going to order lobster, however, the lobster wasn’t live, it had been soaking in some type of Borax to keep it fresh. So we left and went to another restaurant.
    The next day we were off to the Azore Islands. Here my friend David and I found a man walking up a cobblestone street with a very larger lobster. We stopped to chat and shopped for scrimshaw and shirts. The Azores weather that week was cloudy and rained a bit. We headed off across the Atlantic Ocean again back towards home.
    We stopped briefly near the Bahamas and fished. Boy, was it hot!
    We could clearly see the bottom of the ocean floor and wanted to jump in, however, nobody wanted to get in trouble or make the Captain do a Williamson turn.
    My friend Robert caught a large Jackfish.
    The locals wanted us to dock, however, the Captain would not pull into port and after refueling, we headed back home.
    The Chef onboard cooked up the Jackfish for us. Yum!
    Great trip!

    Bruce L Baker on 27 Aug 2020 at 8:03 pm

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