Welcome to Sail Freighter Fridays! This article is part of a series linked to our new exhibit: "A New Age Of Sail: The History And Future Of Sail Freight In The Hudson Valley," and tells the stories of sailing cargo ships both modern and historical, on the Hudson River and around the world. Anyone interested in how to support Sail Freight should also check out the Conference in November, and the International Windship Association's Decade of Wind Propulsion.
Our featured sail freighter today is the Annie Watt, an Australian trading ketch which had a century long career in the Gulf of Saint Vincent, South Australia. She was in service as a sail freighter from her launch in 1870 until she was retired into a precarious chain of owners and neglect before she was acquired by the South Australian Maritime Museum.
The Annie Watt was typical of the "Mosquito Fleet" of small sail freighters like her which were prevalent as late as the 1940s, when they began a marked decline. She was 64 foot long, carrying 44 tons, and Ketch rigged. This means she had two masts fore-and-aft rigged, with the mizzen mast shorter than the main (in the front). She, and other members of the Mosquito Fleet, were used in the shallow waters of the Gulf's small ports, acting as lighters to bring cargo like wheat to the larger windjammers which would sit at anchor, and bringing general cargo around the bay, where roads and railroads were slow to be built.
Like many other vessels designed for shallow water, these Tasmanian Ketches used Centerboards and Drop Keels which are also seen in Hudson River sloops and schooners. Loading at some places was done by using the tide: The ketches would sail into shallow waters over a firm but sandy bottom, drop anchor or tie up to a post, and then let the tide recede, leaving the ship on the flats. Cargo would then be brought from the dry land to the boat before the next high tide lifted the ketch free. The same method was widely used in the UK in the 19th and early 20th century, and brought to Australia by settlers, as was the rig and many other portions of the UK Shipbuilding tradition.
While the Mosquito Fleet, and some other small inland trading fleets survived very late, even into living memory, in developed countries, it ended just before the Oil Crisis of the 1970s brought a large resurgence of interest in sail freight. As that crisis is mimicked by the energy transition and the energy crisis we see before us today, it is interesting to note how durable sail freight was even without these economic pressures.
Read more about the Annie Watt in this 2014 article by Rick Bullers, which is the source for the images used in this blog post.
Steven Woods is the Solaris and Education coordinator at HRMM. He earned his Master's degree in Resilient and Sustainable Communities at Prescott College, and wrote his thesis on the revival of Sail Freight for supplying the New York Metro Area's food needs. Steven has worked in Museums for over 20 years.
If you enjoyed this post and would like to support more history blog content, please make a donation to the Hudson River Maritime Museum or become a member today!
This blog is written by Hudson River Maritime Museum staff, volunteers and guest contributors.
Hudson River Maritime Museum
50 Rondout Landing
Kingston, NY 12401
The Hudson River Maritime Museum is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation and interpretation of the maritime history of the Hudson River, its tributaries, and related industries.
Become a member and receive benefits like unlimited free museum admission, discounts on classes, programs, and in the museum store, plus invitations to members-only events.
The Hudson River Maritime Museum receives no federal, state, or municipal funding except through competitive, project-based grants. Your donation helps support our mission of education and preservation.