Find of the Month: Preussen, Queen of the Queens of the Seas

Preussen, built in 1902 by J C Tecklenborg for shipping company F Laeisz (a company that actually started out as a hat-making business[1]), was a steel-hulled five-masted ship. As can be seen in the image below, each of her five masts carried six square sails apiece. Until 2000, when a ship based on Preussen’s design – Royal Clipper – was launched, she was the only such ship ever built.[2]

Preussen in full sail (postcard)

The ship Preussen in full sail (postcard), author Allan C. Green. Source: John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland.

Preussen’s impressive array of sails and masts is visible in the image above, and is also lain out in the Plan of Masts, Topmasts, Bowsprit, Yards submitted to Lloyd’s Register (LR) while the ship was being built under special survey (see below).

Jigger Mast Plan    4 Masts

(Left) Jigger mast section from Plan of Masts, Topmasts, Bowsprit, Yards etc for Preussen. (Right) Other masts section from Plan of Masts, Topmasts, Bowsprit, Yards etc for Preussen.

First Entry Report for Preussen

First Entry Report for Preussen, 1902, section with details of Masts and Spars.

As you can see from the above photographs of the plan of masts and of the First Entry Report, Preussen’s five masts were the fore, main, middle, mizzen and jigger masts. The tallest of these steel masts (the main mast) was 106 feet; the smallest (the jigger mast) stood at 88 feet and 9 ins.

She had a suit of 24 sails with another 47 spare sails, detailed by her surveyors George Dykes and F Thomsen in the First Entry Report. “List of spare sails supplied: One Foresail, One Mainsail, One Middle Sail, One Jiggersail, Eight Lower topsails, Eight Upper topsails, Seven Lower topgallant sails, Seven Upper topgallant sails, Seven Royal sails, One Foretopmast staysail, One Inner jib, One Middle jib, One Flying jib, One Main topmast staysail and One Middle topmast staysail.”

List of spare sails supplied

List of spare sails supplied, First Entry Report for Preussen, 1902

In support of these sails, the combined length of steel wire used in Preussen’s standing and running rigging was more than 15 miles long, with an extra 12 ½ miles of hemp-rope and reserve cable and hawser, altogether making about 28 miles of cordage for the rigging.[3]

Preussen was among the type of ships nicknamed as ‘Windjammers’, cargo ships that carried out long voyages, often between continents.[4] Romantic myth has it that the phrase ‘windjammer’ comes from the Dutch phrase jammeren, meaning ‘to wail’ (supposedly the sound of strong winds blowing through the rigging of such ships). However, its true origin is simply the British phrase ‘to jam’, coined because the sails of these ships were so large that they seemed to ‘jam’ the wind.[5]

The company F Laeisz put in the order for Preussen to be built at the beginning of the 20th century, partly to meet the challenges of increased trade competition along the Chilean coast.[6] On the recommendation of Dykes and Thomsen, her surveyors, LR’s Classing Committee classed her as 100A1 with the Maltese Cross. (Having the Maltese Cross assigned means that the ship was built, from start to finish, under Special Survey to the Rules of LR. The blog Class Acts contains more information on class notations.[7])

Surveyor's recommendation & class committee decision

Surveyors' recommendation and Classing Committee's decision on Preussen, as recorded in the First Entry Report.

As Dykes and Thomsen state in the General Remarks (see below), “This 5 masted steel sailing ship has been built under the special Survey of two Surveyors in accordance with the approved plans and in conformity with the requirements of the rules and those which are embodied in the Secretary’s letters, having reference to this case”. (This last refers to the steel anchor, “the deficiency in the steel anchor being approved of by letter from the Secretary dated 13.6.02”. Unfortunately this letter has not survived, and so we do not know anything more about this anchor than the remarks made in the First Entry Report.)

General Remarks

General Remarks from First Entry Report on Preussen, 1902.

Overall, though, “The workmanship is of the best description throughout and all the Society’s Rules and requirements have been adhered to in every detail with a view to obtain the highest class under Special Survey in the Society’s Register Book. F. Thomsen, Geo. Dykes”. (Their opinions, recorded in the First Entry Report, are pictured below.)

Thomsen & Dykes remarks

Remarks of surveyors Thomsen and Dykes on Preussen, 1902 First Entry Report.

Preussen’s first voyage was to Chile, as can be seen from her First Entry report pictured below. She regularly made voyages between Hamburg, her port of residence, and Chile during her 8 year life.[8]

First Entry Report 2

First Entry Report for steel sailing ship Preussen.

She was reportedly nicknamed ‘Queen of the Queens of the Seas’ due to her elegant lines and excellent sailing performance.[9] She averaged 73 days sailing from Germany to Chile, and 77 on the return voyages (her best runs were made at 65 days a piece), which were very good numbers.[10] A study undertaken by Captain M Prager at the Deutschen Seewarte (and published in Annalen der Hydrographie in 1905) showed that she could sail at 13.7 knots through force 8 winds.[11]

Profile Preussen

Profile of Preussen showing her elegant lines.

Preussen was lost in November 1910. On this last voyage she set out with an eclectic cargo including cement, fine china and grand pianos, all bound for Valparaiso in Chile. During the night of 5 November into 6 November she was sailing through the English Channel – there was poor visibility and a collision occurred between Preussen and a cross channel steamer, the Brighton, which was sailing the Newhaven to Dieppe route. Preussen was towed to the English coast but ran aground at Crab Bay near Dover when bad weather caused the towlines between Preussen and her rescue tugs to break. Despite several efforts, she could not be refloated. She was eventually abandoned, although her cargo of grand pianos was mostly salvaged.[12]

Preussen was a magnificent example of an elegant and successful commercial sailing ship, holding her place in the history of sailing ships that were the swiftest of their time. Some tall ships survive to this day, ferrying paying passengers around the globe, taking part in well-known and well-attended races such as the annual Tall Ships Races hosted by Sail Training International,[13] and even, occasionally, still carrying cargo as a going-concern, as in the case of Tres Hombres.[14]

References

  1. H. C. Paul Rohrbach, J. Hermann Piening and Fred Schmidt, A Century and a Quarter of Reederei F. Laeisz: Owners of the ‘Flying P’ Nitrate Clippers trans. Antionette G. Smith (Arizona: J. F. Colton & Co., 1957), pp. 9-10.
  2. Star Clippers, http://starclippers.co.uk/the-legendary-preussen-and-france-ii.html, accessed 09/03/2016; Wikipedia – Preussen article, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Preu%C3%9Fen_(ship), accessed 09/03/2016. Rohrback, A Century and a Quarter of Reederei F. Laeisz, p. xii, lists Preussen as the only one of her kind ever built (up to that point – the book was published in 1957), p. xx, notes that other large 5-masters were barque-rigged rather than ship-rigged.
  3. Rohrback, A Century and a Quarter of Reederei F. Laeisz, p. 146.
  4. Basil Lubbock, The Last of the Windjammers: Vol. 2 (Glasgow: Brown, Son & Ferguson, 1929), passim.
  5. Wikipedia – Windjammer article, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Windjammer, accessed 09/03/2016, original source for this listed as ‘Longmans Exam Dictionary CD’.
  6. Rohrback, A Century and a Quarter of Reederei F. Laeisz, p. xx.
  7. Class Acts, https://lrdigitisation.wordpress.com/2015/12/01/class-acts/; Class Symbols, http://www.lr.org/en/_images/213-35667_42-class-symbols.pdf
  8. Rohrback, A Century and a Quarter of Reederei F. Laeisz, p. xx.
  9. Star Clippers, http://starclippers.co.uk/the-legendary-preussen-and-france-ii.html, accessed 09/03/2016; Wikipedia – Preussen article, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Preu%C3%9Fen_(ship), accessed 09/03/2016.
  10. Rohrback, A Century and a Quarter of Reederei F. Laeisz, p. xx.
  11. Bruzelius, http://www.bruzelius.info/Nautica/Ships/Fivemast_ships/Preussen(1902).html, accessed 09/03/2016.
  12. Rohrback, A Century and a Quarter of Reederei F. Laeisz, pp. 198-203; Wrecksite, http://www.wrecksite.eu/wreck.aspx?192, accessed 09/03/2016. Also see Kent History Forum, http://www.kenthistoryforum.co.uk/index.php?topic=5920.0, accessed 09/03/2016, for an interesting discussion about the event of the collision.
  13. Sail Training International, http://www.sailtraininginternational.org/, accessed 09/03/2016.
  14. Tres Hombres, http://fairtransport.eu/ships/tres-hombres/, accessed 09/03/2016.