Windjammer is a sailing ship from the latest generation of large commercial vessels. The steel riveted vessels appeared in the end of the 19th century nearly for half a century on the basis of the industrial revolution advances, have found their niche in competition with steamships. In the struggle with the engine windjammers have adopted the best they could at the end of the 19th century, offer them technological progress. In 1905, more than 3,500 large and medium-sized sailing ships still operated in the world.
Windjammers had simple, reliable and effective mechanisms for handling sails of large area. The vessels didn’t even have any engines. What were the motives of ship owners to invest in the construction of huge sailing ships? Cheap labor of sailors and “gratuitous” wind versus technological progress? How could windjammers compete with brand new steamers?
The length of vessels reached 100-140 m and displacement was up to 4-10 thousand tons. Apart from steel hulls, windjammers had steel masts that allowed to hoist sails up to 60 meters high and to extend sail area. The hulls of the sailing ships were longer than before, which enabled to have three to seven masts. Later, in the 20th century, windjammers were equipped with small auxiliary engines - in case of calm and to provide the crew with heat and energy but the re-equipment but didn’t turn windjammers into steamers: conservative shipowners didn’t approve the expenses related to the steam engines operations on their vessels.
While the network of bunker coal plants in ports on long-haul routes from Asia, Africa, America and Australia to Europe was not sufficiently heavy, windjammers were serious competitors to steamers in terms of transportation of bulk and special cargoes. The era of great geographical discoveries has accumulated a huge store of knowledge fair currents and constant winds in all the oceans of the planet. Shipowners, fanatically devoted to sail, did their best to benefit from commercial contracts of their vessels. Windjammers were more cost-efficient than the motor fleet in terms of transcontinental transportation of goods. This benefit turned out to be “a second wind”.
The bulk cargo lists reflected geopolitics and economics of the late 19th century: the sailing ships carried fertilizers needed in Europe – saltpeter and guano from Chile (sailing round Cape Horn) and nickel ore from Argentina. Windjammers also delivered exotic woods from Brazil, jute and rice from Asia, copra from the Pacific Islands, oil in barrels or in bulk from the Persian Gulf. In the opposite European direction windjammers delivered coal to the ports where their competitors bunkered. Transporting wool and wheat from Australia, the ships were sailing along the "roaring forties" latitudes full of gales which made it difficult and dangerous for steamers.
Transportation of luxurious goods by windjammers was beyond competition due to the fact that the rich carefully tried to avoid the damage from the soot and smoke of steamers to their goods. The European expansion towards the former colonies was not only economic but cultural, too. Windjammers carried out transportation of expensive furniture, pieces of art, musical instruments, especially pianos by famous German factories from the Old World. The choice of windjammers was explained by the fact that the steamers hull vibration caused extremely negative effect for tuning up instruments, making them unsuitable for play.
The times of clipper "tea races" were replaced by "grain" ones. Sailing round the Cape Horn vessels did their best to deliver grain cargoes to Europe as quick as possible. Commercial circumnavigation of windjammers became quite common. The ships were sailing under the western winds and with the help of fair currents from Europe to Africa, from Australia to the East,round the Cape Horn and back to Europe.
The feature of the sailing giants is their crew. Since large rig area required numerous crew members, it was necessary to attract "cheap labour force" – cabin boys and cadets of maritime schools who needed an internship for graduation and they even had to pay for their seamanship. This money was very attractive for pragmatic shipowners when constructing new vessels.
You can judge how hard the work of a cabin boy on a sailing ship was by the statistics: one sailor was in charge of 8 square meters of sail - it is twice more than on a tea clipper and voyages lasted for 5-6 months and couldn’t be called cruise ones! Training onboard a sailing ship was rather important for seamen’s future career and those who had undergone their apprenticeship were highly appreciated by shipping companies.
Windjammers were built at shipyards in England, Germany, France and the United States. The major ship builders were shipyard "Blohm + Voss GmbH" (in Hamburg, and "Tecklenborg" in Gestemyunde, smaller sailing ships were built at a shipyard at Rickmers in Bremerhaven. It was very prestigious to be involved in designing and constructing sailing ships. Projects were carried out by prominent ship builders in Germany working on projects in the University of Göttingen, by aerodynamicists Feppel and Prandtl, shipbuilders Middendorf, Grosek and others.
The largest windjammer fleet in the 20th century belonged by the Swede, Gustaf Erikson from Mariehamn in the Åland Islands: there were more than 40 large sailing vessels in his fleet. Before World War II, he had already had two dozens of windjammers but his empire collapsed after the war. Erickson died in 1947. Before his death he said: "Living in a world without sailing ships makes no sense for me."
In the early 20th century the most famous large sailing vessels belonged to the German company of Ferdinand Laeisz, and his business was successfully continued by his family. The whole world is familiar with the "P-Line" sailing ships: there was an “FL” acronym on the pennant - and romantic sailors gave it their meaning - "Flying-P" – “flying P-liners” because all the ships' names started with that letter: the Potosi, the Pommern, the Passat, the Pamir, the Preussen, the Peking, the Padua, the Ponape, the Priwall and others. Nowadays the Laeisz still exists and there are no sailing ships among the modern ones.
Many giants were lucky enough to go through all the hard times of the 20th century - both world wars and the postwar economic distress. Large sailing vessels didn’t take part in military actions, but were confiscated by shipping companies and were used only as nonself-propelled vessels and as barracks. Being damaged and in a terrible technical condition sailing ships were repurchased by their former owners who were hopeless romantics and at all costs tried to save these vessels.
To use the the Suez Canal and the Panama Canal became the major problem for windjammer: it was impossible to cross them and the towage was not cost effective in terms of freight. The prices for South American ore went down, as well as the depletion of nitrate deposits led to a sharp reduction in the number of sailing ships in this line and transfer the most of them to the Australian line. Windjammers had to sail in the ocean areas with strong severe storms and cyclone, which caused broken masts, ballast displacement and as a result accidents and ship wrecks.
Technical imperfection plays its part in destiny of large sailing vessels. Having no engine the vessels often collided rocks during calm. Whole mooring the lack of engine made the vessels clumsy and helpless without tugs, and all the major European ports, as well as today, are located at the mouths of rivers. Saved hours and sometimes even days in the ocean were spent waiting for an available tug. It was even more difficult to organize fast unloading and loading at the port: the pride of Windjammer - rigging and masts hindered the work of modern technical means, resulting in manual loading.
A further increase in the size of sailing vessels was economically unprofitable: it was difficult to fill the large holds with cargo, and upon reaching its maximum, they lost in “size competition”.
The largest of still existing windjammers afloat is the training barque "Sedov". It was built in Germany in 1921 for "F.A.Vinnen & Co" with the prospulsion motor, and was only the 4th largest sailing vessel (117 m, 7200 t, 3800 m² sail) at the launch time. By the name "Magdalena Vinnen", in 1936 it became the property of the North German Lloyd and became a training ship with a new name "Commodore Johnsen", and after the war it was handed over the USSR as a reparation. The vessel’s port of registry is Murmansk and its shipowner now is the Murmansk State Technical University.
One of the most beautiful and the fastest barques was "Herzogin Cecilie", built by the shipyard Rickmers Schiffbau AG in Bremerhaven in 1902 and named after the Duchess of Mecklenburg Cecilia. “Herzogin Cecilie” was one of the fastest merchant sailing ships of her time, on a par with the Flying-P-Liners. The trip around Cape Horn from Portland (Oregon) to The Lizard (England) was done in 1903 in only 106 days. However, in 1936, at night, in calm weather, it ran aground off the coast of South America, and it was decided not to rebuild it. Some of its details were removed and the rest was destroyed by waves.
The American steel-hulled schooner "Thomas W. Lawson" had the maximum number of masts - seven! She was launched in 1902 in Quincy (the USA). The schooner was designed to transport coal, but after the building was converted into a tanker. Her hull length was 120 m, each of the 7 steel masts was 35m weighed 20t. There were 17-meter woodenmast heads on top of each mast, the total sail area reached 4,000 m², divided into 25 sails. Seafarers' work is facilitated by a variety of mechanisms. The schooner which had no engine was equipped with a steam steering apparatus, steam winches, electrical system and even the telephone network. According to the terminology the masts from the 2nd to 6th one should be called mainmasts, but sailors quickly found a way out of this inconvenience and gave the masts the names of weekdays. The fate of this giant did not correspond to its size - in the very first transatlantic voyage due to a navigational error the ship grounded on the underwater rocks at the British shores, and she had no engine that could prevent the disaster.
After the World War II, large sailing ships finally stopped being used for commercial purposes. Many of them were sent for scrap, became floating museums and even restaurants. Some were lucky enough to continue their living as training ships for the Soviet Navy which received thelargest German sailing vessels as reparation. Subsequently, a special construction of such vessels ("Gorch Fock II" in Germany in 1958, " Dar Młodzieży" in Poland, and others) was carried out.
To talk about the future of sailing ships without mentioning windjammers is impossible. Dozens of companies are now building modern large yachts and sailing vessels for entertainment, recreation and education, and environmental friendliness, economy and nobility of sailing giants will still continue serving the humanity. So windjammers have stayed alive making the fans of sailing ships full of delight.