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 Windjammer is the Preussen, the only five-masted full rigged cargo ship ever built, and the largest of the early 20th century windjammers. 482 feet long and carrying up to 8,000 tons of Nitrates from Chile to Germany per voyage, she was designed to round Cape Horn and return at great speed, making up to 20.5 knots under up to 73,000 square feet of sails. She was the pinnacle of the sailing vessel, and was in service for 8 years carrying nitrates and general cargo.
As part of the very large era of sail freighters, where crew were expensive, the Preussen had no engines for propulsion, but two "Donkey Engines" which powered winches, pumps, and ship's gear, meaning she needed a crew of only 45. Steel had been used throughout her construction, making her a strong and steady ship, able to take the stresses involved in running at high speeds in heavy weather. She circumnavigated the globe, and went around the Horn at least a dozen times.
Preussen served until November of 1910, when she was rammed by a Steamer in the English channel. The collision caused significant damage, nearly tearing the bowsprit off the ship and flooding the forward compartments. Luckily, the ship had been constructed with watertight bulkheads, otherwise she may well have sunk. Three tugs attempted to tow her into Dover, but a storm drove her on the rocks and she ran hard aground, flooding with up to 16 feet of water in the holds. She was deemed unsalvageable, cargo was pulled off onto barges, and the Preussen's career ended far earlier than anyone anticipated.
An account of the collision from the Preussen's Helmsman is available here. It includes a detailed description of the ship's equipment and accommodations, as well as the account of the collision and grounding.
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.