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 Thomas W Lawson was the largest schooner ever built, at some 475 feet long and 5200 Gross Register Tons. She was made of steel, sported no engines, and had seven masts, one of the very few seven-masted schooners ever built. Launched in 1902, she started her career as a Collier, but was converted to an oil tanker in 1906, serving mostly on the US East Coast. After her retrofit to a tanker, she was one of the few sailing tankers ever in service.
Like the slightly smaller Wyoming, the Lawson had modern winches, a donkey engine, and a small crew of only 18. With seven masts and only so much sail possible at a time, the Lawson was very much at the point of being too large to sail with the technology of the time: In GRT and displacement terms she was bigger than the Preussen, but carried only about two thirds the sail area. This made her ungainly to maneuver, and she was too deep of draft to enter many east coast ports.
The Lawson did not have a long career. After launching in 1902, she served as a collier, though not at maximum profitability due to the small number of ports she could access. On a trip to London in 1907 she was wrecked in a gale off the Scilly Islands near the coast of Cornwall. This wreck caused the first large marine oil spill, and killed 16 out of the 18 crew. While the Lawson's story is mostly one of costly mistakes, it shows one of the same problems as the Preussen: You can only make a sailing vessel so large before it becomes hazardous to operate. While modern technology may increase the size of possible sailing vessels, these warnings from the past should be kept in mind for future windjammer developments.
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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