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.
This week we continue our series of Sail Freighters involved with the Great Grain Races, with likely the most famous of them all: The 4 masted Barque Herzogin Cecilie. Built in 1902 at Bremerhaven, Germany, and was named for the German Crown Princess. She was initially employed in the Nitrates trade between Chile and Europe for making fertilizer and explosives, as did the Parma, Passat, and Pamir. After spending the First World War interned in Chile, she was granted to France as war reparations, then quickly purchased by Gustaf Erikson of Finland.
Erikson continued to employ Herzogin Cecilie for 16 years, in the Australian Grain Trade. Her speed and unique while paint made her stand out, and she became quite famous worldwide. Alan Villiers, a major figure in the end of the windjammer era and the preservation of sailing skills in the 20th century, was aboard for one of these grain runs, which inspired his book "To Falmouth For Orders." He would later purchase and sail the Parma in the 1933 Grain Race, one of the few Herzogin Cecilie didn't win in her era of competition.
Herzogin Cecilie was a fast ship, one of the fastest of the windjammers. At one point in her career she booked over 20 knots. She even beat the record of the Famous tea clipper Cutty Sark, while carrying 5000 tons of grain to the Cutty Sark's empty holds. This turn of speed let the Herzogin Cecilie win 8 of the 11 Great Grain Races she participated in.
In 1936, under the command of a less experienced captain (after her previous skipper retired), she won the grain race in a mere 86 days, the second-fastest ever. A few days later, she departed Falmouth for Ipswich to deliver the cargo to its final destination, but she ran aground in a fog on the coast of Devon, UK. Despite a protracted rescue effort which involved hauling her ashore, a storm battered her on the beach and she capsized, then sank, rendering her unrecoverable. Thus ended the career of one of the most famous of the 20th century Windjammers.
Most of the vessel's fittings were salvaged, and the Captain's Saloon is now reassembled as part of the Mariehamn Aland Islands Maritime Museum, Finland. She is also remembered in folk songs. The Herzogin Cecilie was a very remarkable sail freighter, and a classic piece of the end of working sail in the Atlantic. While she is gone, her model is one to follow, and even with modern technology and knowledge, might be hard to beat.
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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