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.
The current oil price situation is strikingly similar to the crisis of the 1970s, and has sparked additional interest in Sail Freight. Alongside Climate Concerns, price of fuel is the main determining factor for the economic viability of windjammers. As a result, the oil crisis inspired a number of small scale revivals of sail freight: We've already covered the John F Leavitt, Na Mata-I-Sau, and Cagidonu, which were also used in this era, but we have another to add: Berta of Ibiza.
The Berta of Ibiza was a relatively small schooner built in Spain in 1945, 110 feet long and with a cargo deadweight capacity of 150 tons. She sailed a cargo of furniture from Spain to New York, which sold at a small profit, and then took a cargo for Trinidad in November of 1978. She was the first sailing cargo vessel to leave New York Harbor with a cargo since 1943.
She cost her owners $40,000 and was restored over a course of years. She was a wooden ship originally built for cargo work, made of oak, olive, and pitch pine, with quarters for 16 crew. Owned by 10 shareholders, 5 of whom were among the vessel's crew, the schooner was flagged in Panama to allow for payment through shares in the voyage.
Berta was chartered for Trinidad due to fire damage on the main pier which prevented larger vessels from entering at Port of Spain. She was bound for a fishing dock instead, due to her relatively shallow draft and small size.
After dropping her cargo in Trinidad, there is no reference to her again in the sail freight literature, so she drops off the historical radar in much the same way as Cagidonu. She was planned to be employed in the tramping trade around the Caribbean and elsewhere, but it is unknown if she remained engaged in that trade, or for how long. Until those records are available, though, her remaining career will remain a mystery.
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.
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This blog is written by Hudson River Maritime Museum staff, volunteers and guest contributors.
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