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The life and fate of the barque "SCHULSCHIFF POMMERN", ex "ELFRIEDA", ex "AMASIS", ex "SAXON"
By Ronald Wöhrn, Ahlers & Vogel, Hamburg, Germany


There are long lasting, perhaps unknown, links between the Deutscher Schulschiff-Verein1 of Oldenburg in Germany and the south-eastern part of Norway called Sørlandet. One of the least known links leads to Arendal.

Very few people know that for some years the last sail training ship acquired by the Deutscher Schulschiff-Verein for the training of merchant navy cadets before the second world war flew the flag of C. H. Sørensen of Arendal. Although the barque does not originate from Norway, during her life she was owned by three Norwegian companies. This is her story.

The SAXON was built in 1893 for D. McGillivray from Greenock by Kingston Yard in Glasgow under number 322 and rigged as a barque. At the time of delivery she measured 1,637 GT and 1,527 NT. There is very little known about her time under the British flag, only that in 1908 she was sold to J. A. Russel & Co. in Glasgow, which operated her until 1910, when she was acquired by C. H. Sørensen for 3,350 Pounds Sterling. She was still in very good order and had just received a new set of sails. She continued to trade for Sørensen under her original name quite successfully. During that period she was entered with Gard. However, although the freight rates were still satisfactory to operate sailing ships, their climax appeared to have passed already, with the "victory" of steam ships, not dependant upon the wind and therefore able to keep more reliable schedules.

On 5th June 1915, after nearly five years under the C. H. Sørensen flag, she was sold to Hans Borge in Tønsberg for NOK 140,000 - which was equivalent to double the amount Sørensen had paid for her. She was renamed AMASIS. The cause of the increase in her purchase price was the lack of shipping capacity at the time, one year after the first world war had started. That may have caused Hans Borge to re-sell her already one year later to Sandefjords Seil A/S (Haakon Rachlew) for NOK 800,000 - a very successful financial transaction.

Still under the name of AMASIS the barque sailed for Haakon Rachlew for about eight years until 1924.

She had sailed nearly 14 years for Norwegian owners when she was sold to the Hamburg-based company Vinnen Gebrüder GmbH,2 which re-named her ELFRIEDA.3 She was then placed under the command of Captain Hermann Schipmann, who had been in command of several sailing vessels before the first world war. The barque performed three long voyages under the Vinnen Gebrüder flag. In 1923/1924 she sailed with timber from Gefle in Sweden to Melbourne in Australia in 133 days. On her return voyage she sailed from Melbourne on 11th May 1924, and on 13th July 1924 she had to call at a port of refuge in South Africa to have damage caused by a storm repaired. On 17th September 1924 the interrupted homebound voyage resumed and 72 days later on 28th November 1924 she arrived in Hamburg.

On 9th January 1925 the ELFRIEDA was towed by the tug FAIRPLAY XIV from Hamburg to Frederikshald and sailed again with timber on 17th February 1925 with destination Melbourne, where she arrived 114 days later. In Melbourne she took 100 MT of coal as ballast and sailed for Nouméa, New Caledonia, where she took 14 labourers and provisions. She then proceeded to the New Hebrides to load guano. She sailed from Surprise Island on 8th September 1925 and arrived at Auckland, New Zealand 13 days later. After discharge of her cargo she sailed to Melbourne on 11th November 1925, again in ballast, passing the Bass Strait, where she arrived on 23rd December 1925. This allowed the crew to spend Christmas in port - a rare occasion. Thereafter she was ordered to Port Germein to load grain. She sailed from Port Germein on 13th February 1926 and arrived in Queenstown 144 days later, on 7th July 1926. In Queenstown she was ordered to sail to the discharge port of Rotterdam. When passing the Brazilian coast she suffered a leak and took some water in the forepeak. Originally Captain Schipmann intended to jettison cargo, but following advice from the First Officer, part of the bagged cargo was stowed aft, so that the leak came above the waterline. The leak could then be repaired and the cargo re-stowed. For the remainder of the voyage the ELFRIEDA was "tight" again.

 1 The Deutscher Schulschiff-Verein (German Schoolship Association) was founded in 1900 with the purpose of training cadets for the merchant navy. Later, deck personnel were also trained on its ships.
2 This company is not to be confused with Bremen-based F. A. Vinnen & Co., under whose flag sailed a large fleet of sailing ships, such as the four-mast barque "SEDOV", ex "MAGDALENE VINNEN".
3 She was the second sailing vessel to have this name - the first was an iron full-rigger built 1873 by Potter & Hodgkinson in Liverpool.

The next voyage, also under command of Captain Schipmann, commenced in the autumn of 1926, from Hamburg to Comodoro Rivadavia and Caleta Córdoba in Argentina. She used 76 days to complete the voyage. In the beginning of March 1927 she left Caleta Córdoba and sailed in 57 days to Port Adelaide in South Australia and from there in a further 8 days to Newcastle, New South Wales. The usual coal cargo was loaded and the ELFRIEDA sailed in June 1927 for Callao, where she arrived 55 days later. In mid-October the barque sailed in ballast for Iquique to load saltpetre and departed on 14th November 1927 with destination "Falmouth for orders".4 She arrived in Falmouth 130 days later. Finally, on 29th March 1928 she arrived in London to discharge her cargo. On this voyage, after having passed the Falkland Islands the ELFRIEDA met a large area of ice, which extended up to 38 degrees south. She had to tackle the ice for seven days. Over one hundred icebergs were sighted, some of which were over 120 metres high - their height was taken by the ship's officers with a sextant. Thanks to careful navigation, however, she suffered no damage.

In 1927 the Deutscher Schulschiff-Verein was looking for a sail training ship, as the demand for merchant navy cadets was increasing, especially by those North Sea and Baltic trading companies which still operated a large number of smaller sailing ships.5 Depression had caused many ships to be put up for sale and a large number had been sent to breakers. General commercial pressure appears to have prompted the Deutscher Schulschiff-Verein to seek to acquire an old merchant barque, rather than a new building.

For the Schulschiff-Verein the ELFRIEDA was heavily built, very squarely and heavily rigged6 and bald-headed.7 Nevertheless, the price of 3,000 Pounds Sterling seems to have been attractive. In February 1928 the final deal was done, the barque was re-named SCHULSCHIFF POMMERN8 and towed from London to Hamburg. Her conversion for sail training purposes took place in Geestemünde, Germany and was carried out by the renowned shipyard Tecklenborg AG, where she arrived on 21st June 1928.

As the cargo holds were no longer needed, the conversion required 1,500 MT of sand ballast to be taken into them, on a total deadweight of 2,750 MT. In addition, accommodation for 80 trainees and permanent crew had to be provided. Command was given to Captain J. Reimer, who had been her First Officer under the Vinnen Gebrüder flag. Next to him were the First Officer Schade, two experienced watch officers, a purser, a doctor, a bosun, a carpenter, a sail maker, an electrician, a cook, a baker and a steward. 44 of the cadets were "experienced" ordinary sailors from the other training ships SCHULSCHIFF DEUTSCHLAND9 and GROSSHERZOGIN ELISABETH.10 20 of the cadets were new, young boys from the German provinces along the Baltic coast.

 4 This was a common destination, as the cargo was often sold several times before the vessel arrived in Europe, thus final destination was not known until arrival at Falmouth or Queenstown.
5 In addition, sailing ship experience was still required by law before a cadet was allowed to study for a nautical licence.
6 Underhill, in Sail Training and Cadet Ships, says that "she was not a pretty ship, being a bald-header with great breadth of yards, and one would not think of her as being the most suitable of vessels for a cadet crew, since being a steel barque of 1.637 tons, all her gear must have been very heavy, particularly in view of her stump-to'gallant rig. A four-poster of similar tonnage would have been more easy to handle".
7 A "bald-headed" sailing ship is one which lacks royal sails. In the UK, this type of rigging is described as "Jubilee", because it was first shown when Queen Victoria had her 50 year jubilee.
8 The reason why the word "SCHULSCHIFF" was added to the name "POMMERN" was that there was a four-masted barque named "POMMERN" trading at the time. The four-masted "POMMERN" is now laid up in the port of Mariehamn, Åland Islands.

In mid-September 1928 the new SCHULSCHIFF POMMERN was put into service and on 4th October 1928 the barque, together with the GROSSHERZOGIN ELISABETH and SCHULSCHIFF DEUTSCHLAND, left the estuary of the River Weser. For the last time the public could watch three white sailing ships, all without cargo, sailing into the North Sea.

The SCHULSCHIFF POMMERN's first voyage was to the Atlantic, rather than the Baltic or the North Sea (her intended routes). Initially, strong head winds in the English Channel caused delays to the voyage. Then bad weather in the Bay of Biscay resulted in further delays to the schedule and caused considerable stress to the new and young crew members, although this part of the voyage provided useful education for what was to come. The barque was heading for Madeira, where the crew took some rest before heading for Las Palmas. The vessel arrived at Las Palmas in the beginning of November 1928, after only two days sailing.

After an enjoyable stay at Las Palmas the barque left on 10th November 1928 - homebound. The barque sailed the usual "sailing ship track": northwest towards the Azores and then to the English Channel. The weather report, however, was not too promising and forecasted gale force winds. On 20th November 1928 the wind increased to Beaufort force 11 to 12 and the upper main top-sail tore in one blow. Only the most experienced crew were sent into the yards to take in the remains of the sail. At dawn the lower main top-sail was blown away with a sound like the firing of a cannon ball. Two storm sails were set which still provided a speed of 10 knots.

During the day the wind abated, giving some time for the crew to survey and repair the damage. Naturally, the sail maker had to sew new sails, assisted by the crew.

On 23rd November 1929, when she reached the 200-metre line of the Continental Shelf, the wind increased again to Beaufort force 11 to 12. The Captain, not known for exaggerations in his reports, recorded that huge mountainous seas were rolling and breakers were flooding the ship. Oil was used to calm the sea and as the barque rolled heavily every man was secured with lifelines.

In the morning of 24th November 1929 the command assumed that the vessel was positioned near the Isles of Scilly, but there was no sign of the Wolf Rock or Bishop Rock. The barque met a steamer and using the flags of the International Signal Code the command asked for the position, which the steamer gave as "LIZARD IN NORTH TO WEST 15 NM OFF". The command laid the course more northerly to try to reach the calmer waters of Cornwall. Despite the very careful lookouts there was still no land in sight.

At 1000 hrs the sun suddenly appeared for a short while, sufficient for the mates to use the sextant. The result of three different position fixings was surprising: the barque was about 40 nautical miles southeast of dead-reckoned position, which was confirmed by a sounding. If she remained on that course she would not leave the Channel Islands safely. The only option was to put the bow against the sea. However, every sailor knows that this manoeuvre in hurricane winds is more than dangerous, as the power of the wind may cause the entire rigging to come down.

Nevertheless, Captain Reimer decided to carry out this manoeuvre, which turned out to be successful. However, nobody knew how fast the ship was sailing. The sea continued to shake and roll the barque 35 to 40 degrees to either side, but its brave crew showed no signs of fear.

At noon it was reported that the port leeward stay of the foremast and the starboard lift of the fore main yard had parted.

Suddenly a very huge "roller" caught the barque, the lee railing went deep into the water and the entire steel fore mast crashed and fell like a tree, with all its yards and sails to the leeward side. Only a few minutes later the main mast suffered the same fate, taking the upper mast of the mizzen with it as it fell. All crew working 20 metres aloft fell on deck - unhurt, even though 50 tons of rigging, steel and wood had fallen down. The masts destroyed four lifeboats; the large bilge pump was out of order.

A quick muster call showed that nobody was missing. All holds were sounded empty. There was no time to cut off the rigging hanging over the ship's sides. Captain Reimer decided to lash the helm and the ship drifted in the roaring seas.

Nearby, the German steamer RHÖN noted the signal rockets fired, as well as the signal flags on a provisional line in the mizzen requesting a salvage tug.

Before the German salvage tug SEEFALKE11 arrived, the yards floating in the water had worked their way underneath the keel to the port side and smashed the last remaining lifeboat. Anchor chains were made ready for towage. Luckily enough, the auxiliary generator was still working, providing some comfort in the darkness of the night. When finally the towage line was made fast and the tug began to tow, the brakes of the anchor windlass proved to be too weak and the entire port anchor chain of 225 metres ran out - the ship started drifting again, helpless. By then the crew had had no rest and no warm food for more than 24 hours.

 9 SCHULSCHIFF DEUTSCHLAND is now permanently moored at the river Weser in Bremen-Vegesack, Germany.
10 The GROSSHERZOGIN ELISABETH had to be surrendered after the German capitulation to the Royal Navy at the end of the second world war. She was towed to Kiel on 13th August 1946 and handed over to France. At the end of 1946 she was towed to Brest, where she was given her new name DUCHESS ANNE. Since then she has been restored and is now permanently moored in Dunkirk, France. After the foundation of the Schulschiff-Verein, the first foreign port at which the GROSSHERZOGIN ELISABETH called was Arendal, in 1901, nearly 100 years ago.
11 The SEEFALKE is now stationed as museum ship in Bremerhaven.

Finally at 2300 hrs the salvage tug HEROS arrived at the scene and observed the barque drifting athwart in the sea, the upper part of the fore mast laying square on the railing, the mast and yards banging against the hull.

The starboard anchor chain was still connected to the ship, so that the barque was at anchor, but nevertheless drifting. Parts of the chain had to be disengaged to establish a towing connection with the port chain. This was finally achieved and at 0200 hrs on 25th November the barque was again ready to be towed. The HEROS approached her but stayed 30 to 40 metres away to avoid any contact with the still heavily rolling sailing vessel. All attempts to establish a towing connection failed due to the heavy seas. Finally the manila rope brought out got caught under the tug's bottom.

The next attempt started at 0700 hrs. However, several attempts to shoot a line to the distressed barque failed. In addition, the tug had to steam away for engine re-adjustments. What to do?

The Captain, officers and petty officers decided that the cadets should be taken off the ship. This was signalled to the HEROS. A dangerous manoeuvre began for both, the tug and the barque. The HEROS positioned herself in windward position in relation to the SCHULSCHIFF POMMERN, with the stern into the sea. Heavy breakers were rolling over the tug from aft to forward, as the tug was steaming towards the stern of the SCHULSCHIFF POMMERN. The storm was still roaring. Finally at 1100 hrs a manila rope connection could be established and another connecting rope was made fast. A double bowline was made in the centre of the rope, pulling the shipwrecked men to the HEROS. Once the first man was safe on the deck of the HEROS the line was pulled back for the next man to be rescued. This operation lasted until 1500 hrs, when the storm increased again. The tug fell off and had to slip the lines to avoid becoming entangled with the barque.

Five steamers arrived at the scene12 and positioned themselves to the windward to protect the SCHULSCHIFF POMMERN against the heavy breaking seas so that the HEROS could continue her rescue action. A lifeboat put to water by the LANCASTRIA was hit by the seas and drifted away. A large passenger steamer arrived and threw life buoys with lights into the raging sea.

 12 These were the British ships MANCASHIRE, OSTERLEY, MATANIA, ARUNDEL CASTLE and the American LANCASTRIA.

At 1800 hrs the lighthouse Hanois, on Guernsey, came in sight. But luckily enough, when both the tug and the barque were about 5 to 6 nautical miles off the lighthouse, the tug HEROS was able to signal "clear SOS" to all stations. At 2000 hrs all 79 men from the SCHULSCHIFF POMMERN had been rescued.

On 26th November 1928 the shipwrecked men were landed at Millbay Dock in Plymouth and cheered their salvors three times before being finally accommodated in the Seamen's Mission. The next day the Lord Mayor gave a reception in honour of the tug and the barque's crews, but as the Master of the HEROS did not want to leave his tug while "on station", the function took place at the quayside.

On 30th November 1928 the passenger liner AMERICA took the crew home, where another warm welcome waited.

The final fate of the SCHULSCHIFF POMMERN was reported in the 1st December 1928 edition of the French newspaper Petit Journal. It informed that against all expectations the abandoned wreck had drifted free from the cliffs of Point Plainmont, the Isle of Jersey, the rocks of Les Minquiers and the Isles Chausey, and turned up at the coast of Granville. Normandy fishermen had then boarded the ship, put her to anchor, cleared the deck - and taken with them everything that was not nailed or riveted to the vessel. After two days the authorities took charge of the barque and towed her to St. Malo, where the Chief Inspector of the Hamburg-Südamerikanische Dampfschiffahrtsgesellschaft, Captain Elson, surveyed the heavily damaged barque. The repair costs were estimated to be 150,000 Reichsmark, whilst her value was 24,000 Reichsmark.

This was the sad but nevertheless fortunate end of the SCHULSCHIFF POMMERN, as no human life was lost. After 35 years of sailing, the saga of the SAXON had come to an end.

SOURCES
Hurst, A.A., The Medley of Mast and Sail - A Camera Record, Vol. 2, Teredo Books Ltd, Brighton.
Meyer, Jürgen, Hamburgs Segelschiffe 1795-1945, 3rd edition, 1980, Verlag Egon Heinemann, Norderstedt.
Underhill, Harold A., Sail Training and Cadet Ships, 1st edition 1956, reprinted 1973, Brown, Son & Ferguson, Glasgow.
Eckardt, Gerhard, Die Segelschiffe des Deutschen Schulschiff-Vereins, 1981, Verlag H. M. Hauschild, Bremen.
SEA BREEZES, The P.S.N.C. Magazine, edited by F. W. Sidall, Vols. X and XI, 1928, 1929.
Dannevig, Birger, C. H. Sørensen & Sønner, 1881-1981, Arendal, 1981.


Gard News is published quarterly by Gard Services AS, Arendal, Norway.