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.
Today's featured Sail Freighter is the Pamir, built in Hamburg, Germany in 1905. She was rigged as a 4-masted Barque, with her three forward masts square rigged and her aftermost mast rigged Fore-&-Aft. The Barque rig was used in later sailing vessels as it saved slightly on crew, compared to a full ship rig which would be square-rigged on all masts. The Pamir had an eventful 52-year commercial career, and is worth studying as a classical early 20th century engineless Windjammer.
Pamir was built as one of the Flying P-Liners, which were part of the Laeisz Line of Germany, all had names starting with a "P." They earned the name of "Flying" P-Liners because of their speed: Many made up to 16 knots, better than most steamers at the time. After being launched in 1905, she sailed under the Laeisz Line in the Nitrates trade between South America and Germany, moving Guano in loads of more than 3000 tons at a time. Guano, or bird and bat dung, is rich in Nitrates, and was used in the production of fertilizers and explosives in Europe. It could not safely be transported in coal-fired steamers due to the risk of explosions ignited by any leak from smoke stacks. Sailing vessels stayed in this trade for many years after steamers had taken over other routes due to this risk, but were eventually replaced by internal combustion engine propelled ships that had a lower risk of fire and explosion.
After the First World War, the Pamir was granted to Italy as War Reparations, then a few years later was purchased again by the Laeisz Line. In 1931, she was acquired by Gustaf Erikson, a Finnish ship owner who had the last fleet of windjammers until his death in 1947. The Pamir was captured by New Zealand during the Second World War, and was only returned to the Erikson Line in 1948, when she had the chance to participate in the Last Grain Race from Australia to England against the Passat, another former Flying P-Liner.
After her participation in the Last Great Grain Race, she was sold to two different German lines in the 1950s. She was the last windjammer in commercial service in the Atlantic World in 1957 when she made her last voyage.
In 1957, she set sail with a load of more than 3,700 tons of grain, which had been stowed by her inexperienced sail trainees. The captain was also inexperienced in sail powered cargo operations, though he had experience in Sail Training ships before taking command of the Pamir. The cargo was stowed loose in the holds and ballast tanks, with only a small amount in sacks on top to keep it from shifting in heavy seas. En Route to Germany, she encountered a hurricane, which caused her to heel and the cargo to shift. When it did, the ship did not right herself, leaving the hatch covers exposed to the direct impact of hurricane-driven seas. The hatch covers gave way, water filled the holds, she capsized, then sank.
Because she had been heeled hard over by the shifted cargo, half of her lifeboats were underwater, while the other half could not be launched because they could only be dropped onto the side of the hull, where they were damaged by waves. Most of the crew made it to the few lifeboats which could be launched. Only two of the unprovisioned lifeboats were found after a nine day search off the Azore Islands, and of the 86 people on board, only 6 survived. The combination of unskilled hands and rough weather sealed her fate.
The Pamir's fate is tragic, but is the ending point of a career spanning more than half a century. She was a remarkably successful Barque, and the last commercial sailing vessel in the Atlantic. This is worth recognizing and celebrating, while we learn some lessons about how to handle cargo from her demise.
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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