How to name a vessel: “My wife will be delighted!”

In 1936, Cunard White Star Line Limited’s chairman Sir Percy Bates was granted an audience with King George V to inquire about a sensitive matter, to get the king’s consent to name one of company’s ocean liner vessels under construction at the time after the king’s grandmother, Queen Victoria. Traditionally Cunard’s vessels had names ending in –ia, and at the time the Cunard line were on the quest for a more nationalistic and majestic, shall we say, line of vessel naming.

“Your Majesty,” Bates said respectfully, “the Cunard line is building the best, biggest, and speediest ship in the world, and requests your gracious permission to name her after the most illustrious and remarkable woman who was ever been Queen of England.” The king, probably presuming a uxorious hyperbole in the proposition, replied, “My wife will be delighted,” and so, the vessel got to be known to history as Queen Mary instead of Victoria.[1]

Ships have been huge undertakings from time immemorial in terms of physical dimensions and financial commitment, often disappearing on the horizon not to be seen or heard from again, if ever on occasion, until several months later, whether the purpose of their voyage was military or commercial. While the shape of their hulls was determined by the progress of the science of naval architecture at the time, anthropomorphic markings (such as the ‘oculus’) or artifacts (such as figureheads on the prow) were to impose fear on the enemy, dispel bad luck or bring good luck, calm the elements of nature, and so on, and so forth. The naming of ships has often played a similar role through history, and has imparted practical and commercial concerns through the times.

There is no formal procedure or nomenclature on vessel naming, but usually after the launching of the vessel over the slipway in the shipbuilder’s yard and the smashing of a champagne bottle on the bow by the vessel’s godmother (again, a superstitious act offering libation to the gods of the sea for favorable treatment of the vessel while plowing the waters), there is the naming (or christening) ceremony when the vessel is named and her name is ceremoniously revealed under garlands and banners; sometimes, the naming ceremony takes place just before the delivery of the vessel to her new owners. And today, by IMO regulations, it is required that the name of the vessel is clearly printed on both the portside and starboard bow and the superstructure, while the name along with her IMO number and her homeport are clearly printed on the stern with lettering at least four inches in height. According to the US Coast Guard, “a name for the vessel composed of letters of the Latin alphabet or Arabic or Roman numerals and may not exceed 33 characters. The name may not be identical, actually or phonetically, to any word or words used to solicit assistance at sea; may not contain or be phonetically identical to obscene, indecent, or profane language, or to racial or ethnic epithets.” On occasion vessels can have two names, one stated on the bareboat charter party and another actually printed on the hull – often trying to accommodate legal or financial considerations. Vessels upon their sale most often change name and the chimney is painted with the house colors and house flag of the new buyer, while the vessel can be identified by the prefix ‘ex-‘ on her previous names, such as MT “Mediterranean”, ex-Exxon Valdez. Sometimes for older vessels or vessels intended for demolition, the new name can be a variation of the previous name, especially if buyers are to save on new lettering and documentation expenses; as such, a once beautiful tanker named MT “Glenross” became just MT “Ross” on her way to the scrap yard by just painting over partially over previous name; no much romance and aspiration in the naming, just surplus black paint did the trick.

In terms of ship naming conventions and writing style, a ship’s name is always italicized. Prefixes, hull or pennant numbers, and disambiguation are rendered in normal upright font. The definite article is not used with vessel names, and usually feminine pronouns (sometimes neutral as well) are utilized for ships. Common prefixes are MV (for Motor Vessel), MS (for Motor Ship), MT (Motor Tanker), SY (for Sailing Yacht) or MY (for Motor Yacht), while prefixes from older times were SS (for Steam Ship) and RMV (for Royal Mail Ship) or ever older HMS (for His/Her Majesty’s Ship). For a more thorough list of maritime abbreviations, please click here.

While the presence of women onboard ships bored on the superstition of bad luck, non military vessels traditionally have been given female (or neutral) names rather than male names. On occasion vessels were named after the shipowner’s wife, daughter or even paramour, mistress or female companion. There have been owners who went as far to name vessels after colloquial names of ‘working girls’ in port cities such as ‘Lulu’, ‘Fifi’, and ‘Zuzu’; vessels trading in the spot market (often called ‘tramp trade’ since the next cargo and voyage is unpredictable and completely dependent on what cargos and trades will be found at the next port call), just as a ‘working girl’s’ schedule in a port depends, well … depends on trade. Vessels are named after flowers, whether national (“Chrysanthemum” or not, such as “Rose”), in English or in local languages (“Bunga Begonia” in Malay and Indonesian for “begonia flower’). Vessels are named after “Love” or “Amor” or “Prem” (love in Hindi), while there are tankers are present named “Lovely Lady” and “Amoureux” (in love), while we should not forget a sitcom of the past taken place on cruiseship MS “Pacific Princess” (better known as “Love Boat”). Pleasure boats and yachts often bear more affectionate, inspirational or evocative names such as SY “Sea Joy” or MY “Eclipse” (Abramovich’es yacht) or “Octopus” (Paul Allen’s, Microsoft co-founder) or MY “Rising Sun” (Oracle’s Larry Ellison yacht) or SY “Maltese Falcon”. Cruiseships often had alluring names such as “Oasis of the Seas” but now at the age of size and industrial scales are also named MS “Carnival Victory” and MS “Carnival Valor” just the way major industrial shipowners name their vessels with in two-words, with their funnel name accompanied by a second name such as MV “Maersk Alabama” or MV “MOL Japan” or MT “Front Cecilie”.

Save SS United States!

Save SS United States!

On occasion, ships are pointedly named, especially in times of war and conflict, while veins of nationalism can sometimes run through ship onomatopoeia as well; when the US claimed as prize of war the German-built Vaterland (‘Fatherland’), President Woodrow Wilson had her re-named Leviathan; when asked about the name, his reply was: “Why, that’s easy, Leviathan …It’s in the Bible, monster of the deep.”[2] In 1952, the ocean liner vessel SS United States was built in Newport News shipyard; the vessel was an engineering marvel of her time in terms of safety, speed, efficiency and luxury, and she was so named to make a point against traditional British dominance of the seas through superior naval architecture and navigational skill.

Sometimes shipowners used to recycle names of glorious, lucky or profitable ships, or maintain a line of naming through family generations; during World War II, the dry bulk vessel “North King” survived seventeen crossings in convoys of the Atlantic Ocean and the Nazi U-boats, and even today the multi-generational house of A.G. Pappadakis & Co. has been naming vessels bearing the first name “North” such as “North Prince”, “North Empress”, “North Princess”[3]. In previous and more innocent times when communications were expensive and access to information not instant (anyone remembers such times?), ship names were more important for trading purposes as charterers and brokers who recalled their names were more inclined to contact the owners for more business. In an interview several years ago in a shipping trade publication, Japanese shipowner Hachiro Kaifu, who was heading Far East Shipping & Trading, brought up such point as “charterers and brokers involved in shipping with Far East often remember our vessels because of their names, and consequently whenever they have a cargo we want, they recall our vessels more quickly than any other vessel,” and thus the unusually but memorably named fleet: MV “Never on Sunday”, MV “Louisiana Mama”, MV “Amor Amor”, MV “El Condor Pasa” and MV “ Shenandoah”.

Famous names of ships are Syracusia, allegedly the largest commercial ship in (western) antiquity; Argo, Jason’s ship going after the Golden Fleece, Santa Maria (or fully La Santa María de la Inmaculada Concepción)as Columbus’ flagship on his first trip to Americas; Mayflower bringing the Pilgrims to the western world; HMS Beagle, Darwin’s ship for his scientific travels and call to the Galapagos Islands; Calypso, Jacques Cousteau’s oceanography vessel; HMS Victory, Nelson’s man-of-war flagship. The clipper vessel Cutty Sark (‘short house skirt’) was famous for her sleek lines and fast times and iconic USS Constitution (‘Old Iron Sides’) in the US instrumental in the country’s war for independence; SS Patrick Henry, was the first of about 2,200 ‘liberty ships’ built during the war effort in WWII; Glückauf was the first oil tanker, with MT Exxon Valdez being a tanker of notoriety, and MT “Seawise Giant” (renamed “Happy Giant”, renamed “Jahre Viking”, renamed “Knock Navis”), was the largest tanker (and movable structure) ever built; as the litany of her names suggests, her size was not commensurate with luck or commercial success. But if there is a vessel that rightfully holds crown of bad luck and according to polls has been the most recognizable ship name ever, it is RMS “Titanic” that sank on her maiden voyage with great loss of life, some say as the result of a provocative name and claims of man taming nature and delivering the ‘unsinkable’ ship.

Widawati Delivery_2011


 

[1] The Cunard Story; Johnson, Howard; Whittest Books, 1987.                                                       [2] Home is the Sailor; Hartley, Herbert; Vulcan Press, 1955.                                                           [3] Ἑλληνες εφοπλιστε᾽ς και ναυτιλιακε᾽ς επιχειρἠσεις; Για᾽ννης Θεοτοκα᾽ς & Τζελι᾽να Χαρλαυ᾽τη; Εκδο᾽σεις Αλεχα᾽νδρεια, 2007.

 

© 2013-2014 Basil M Karatzas & Karatzas Marine Advisors & Co.  All Rights Reserved.

IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER:  Access to this blog signifies the reader’s irrevocable acceptance of this disclaimer. No part of this blog can be reproduced by any means and under any circumstances, whatsoever, in whole or in part, without proper attribution or the consent of the copyright and trademark holders of this website. Whilst every effort has been made to ensure that information here within has been received from sources believed to be reliable and such information is believed to be accurate at the time of publishing, no warranties or assurances whatsoever are made in reference to accuracy or completeness of said information, and no liability whatsoever will be accepted for taking or failing to take any action upon any information contained in any part of this website.  Thank you for the consideration.

Save SS United States, “America’s Flagship”

She was built as an unsinkable ship, a claim allegedly attributed to Bruce Ismay, the managing partner of the White Star Line, the direct shipowning company of the famous RMS Titanic. The year was 1912, and liner companies were in fierce competition with each other for the Transatlantic passenger trade. Fate would not be kind to Ismay and RMS Titanic as both soon floundered spectacularly, both literally and metaphorically.

Forward Portside View of SS United States

Forward Portside View of SS United States

Four decades later, a longer, beamier, stronger, more powerful passenger vessel would be built in the US at the Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock Company in Virginia for the same trade. Like RMS Titanic, her maiden voyage made great news as well at the time as she crossed eastbound the Atlantic Ocean in record time of about three days and eleven hours. Soon thereafter, she pulverized the record for the more challenging westbound leg of the Transatlantic trip with a record of about three days and twelve hours. She earned the Blue Riband, the trophy for the fastest average cruising speed on both directions of the round Transatlantic voyage, a record that she still holds today, six decades later. Now, an arthritic, gracious, old lady past her prime and with the memory token of the trophy misplaced somewhere in the attic that today’s grandchildren of history would barely care getting bothered about. The name of the distinguished old lady is SS United States and her figurative attic is Pier 82 on the Delaware River in Philadelphia.

Ship's badge: SS United States

Ship’s badge: SS United States

Her speed may have placed her name on the record books, but she has been a remarkable ship in more ways than one. With 990 ft length overall, she was 110 ft longer than RMS Titanic and well within comparison to the 1,000-ft length commanded by today’s supertankers and monster containerships. Despite her length, her beam was kept narrow at 101 ft so that she could pass gracefully through the Panama Canal if her voyage called for it. Her steam turbines were capable of producing 248,000 shaft horsepower (SHP) – more than twice the power of today’s either typical supertanker or a two-engined Boeing 777 airplane. She brought the Blue Riband to American shores from Queen Mary by sailing as fast as almost 36 knots (approximately41 mph), which is believed to be even today the fastest crossing of the Atlantic Ocean in both directions by a standard mono-hull, merchant vessel. Last decade, when the world economies were growing robustly and just in time inventory was in vogue, containerships – the fastest commercial vessels these days – were crossing the oceans at twenty-four knots maximum speed, while in today’s anemic economic environment and high bunkering fuel cost, the fastest containeships typically slow steam at sixteen knots. Cruiseships are capable of achieving close to thirty knots, but usually barely sail above twenty knots in order to economize on fuel expense. Being built after RMS Titanic’s tragedy, the International Convention for Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) in 1914, and after her sistership SS Olympia, SS United States was an embodiment to prevention and safety in the event of unforeseen events.

Where first class cabins used to be - SS United States

Where first class cabins used to be – SS United States

The vessel was launched in 1952 at a contract price of $78 million, or approximately $690 million in today’s purchasing power. With 4,060 berths, her contract price was 50% more expensive than today’s cruiseships (though she was a different, now extinct ‘asset class’, an ‘ocean liner’); efficiencies in shipbuilding can attribute to savings, but SS United States was distinctly a luxury vessel with half of her passengers traveling in first class (versus one-third of RMS Titanic) and she had one crew member for every two passengers (versus one crew member for every three passengers on RMS Titanic.) The high cost of the vessel was also partially attributed to increased specifications for military use, as less than a decade after World War II and with Cold War just settling in when she was built, the US government wanted access to passenger vessels in order to move rapidly military troops worldwide in case of military action. Although the vessel could accommodate up to three thousand passengers on a commercial voyage, five times as many (15,000) soldiers would be transported on one of the vessel’s military trips. As such, the vessel’s hull was built with re-enforced steel in order to sustain hostile fire and she was heavily compartmentalized with water-tight doors and bulkheads in order to prevent heavy flooding. For the right of having access to the vessel in time of emergency, the US Navy paid $50 million of the contract price, while $28 million was paid by her official shipowner and manager, the now defunct United States Lines (signage of the company can be seen today along the Chelsea Piers on the Hudson River in Manhattan.)

Pioneering luxury: swimming pool onboard with layer of beach sand all around!

Pioneering luxury: swimming pool onboard with layer of beach sand all around!

There were twenty-two decks and plentiful luxurious common areas for the enjoyment of her privileged passengers, amenities such as indoor and outdoor promenades and sundecks, huge library with high ceilings and large, sunny windows in the front of the ship, ball room and dance floor with a dome structure, theater stage, tennis court, an elevator to the the master staircase, a luxurious bar opening to the sun deck in the rear of the vessel, a swimming pool complete with sand around it for the passenger’s enjoyment. All such luxury had to be dispensed without the presence of wood onboard the vessel in order to avoid fires; extensive use of aluminum substituted for wood, and Steinway himself had to demonstrate that the specially made piano for the ship was fire proof indeed and could actually cannot be set on fire (the piano and the butcher’s block were the only two wooden pieces ever allowed onboard.)

Forward funnel, radar and crow's nest - SS United States

Forward funnel, radar and crow’s nest – SS United States

Two 65-ft tall, brilliantly red-painted funnels with small wings and gently leaning backwards, with a white stripe on top in parallel to a white stripe along the upper end of a black-painted hull, and almost a vertically raked bow and round ‘spoon shaped’ stern typical for ocean liners of that age, SS United States was cutting a graceful figure over the water and on the horizon and her New York City port calls have been immortalized on numerous post cards. Even today, the fainted red color of the two funnels is an eye-catcher when one is crossing the bridge approaching Philadelphia and from afar form the Seaport up the Delaware River; almost like two faint, red candle-flames over the horizon, two candle flames of the memory and glory, a prayer that the wind of modern times will not peel off the colorful existence altogether.

Funnels - SS United States

Funnels – SS United States

In her 800 Transatlantic crossings over her seventeen year career ending in 1969 (about one crossing per week), notable politicians and celebrities enjoyed unparalleled luxury in her fast and graceful sliding over the ocean; Marlon Brando, Coco Chanel, Sean Connery, Gary Cooper, Walter Cronkite, Salvador Dali, Walt Disney, Duke Ellington, Judy Garland, Cary Grant, Charlton Heston, Bob Hope, Marilyn Monroe, Prince Rainier and Grace Kelly, Elizabeth Taylor, John Wayne, and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor are known to travelled with her. Four U.S. presidents sailed aboard SS United States overtime, Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, John Kennedy and Bill Clinton, the last as fresh graduate from Georgetown was on his way to study at Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar in 1968, one year before the retirement of the vessel.

Indoors promenade: SS United States

Indoors promenade: SS United States

Ever since her retirement from active duty in 1969, the ship has been having a tumultuous life seeking a purpose and a permanent home; she has changed ownership several times since then, with buyers hoping to find commercial uses for her. She was designed as a passenger liner vessel to travel fast and her conversion to a cruiseship or theme vessel or a floating hotel is not absolutely ideal, as she’s too narrow by her beam and her fuel consumption (replacing diesel powered steam turbines) will be high. She has been gutted internally and most of the asbestos has been removed, so she’s ready for her next development stage. There have been proposals for her to be developed as a museum or theme vessel and get relocated to major metropolitan areas, possibly New York, perhaps along the historic aircraft carrier Intrepid or find a place with Vision 2020: New York City Comprehensive Waterfront Plan.

Stern - SS United States registered with New York as her homeport

Stern – SS United States registered with New York as her homeport

At present, the vessel is owned and controlled by the SS United States Conservancy (http://www.ssusc.org/), an non-for-profit organization, under the leadership of Susan L. Gibbs, the granddaughter of ingenious William Francis Gibbs, the naval architect and marine engineer who designed SS United States (and also notably the vessels that would be known as ‘Liberty Ships’ during WWII.) Through sizeable donations and ongoing fund raising efforts, the Conservancy has kept a close watch over the vessel and her constant need for upkeep and continuous cleaning efforts. However, a couple of recent proposals for the ship’s development have fallen apart, and the running costs of keeping the vessel at her present location is more than $60,000 per month.

We have had the distinct honor to be invited recently by the SS United States Conservancy to board and tour the vessel, to be allowed to get a glimpse through history’s spider-webbed, broken glass of a porthole into another age and way of life. It was a breezy, sunny day in March after a long winter in Philadelphia and the Northeast; just to envision for a few hours the luxury ship built with military grade steel and aluminum superstructure careening effortlessly fast over the ocean, with Marilyn Monroe lingering on a chaise lounge chair on one of the sundecks portside and Salvador Dali pondering on surrealism by his cabin starboard, John Kennedy leaning over a book in the library while there was a stage performance in the theater abaft, it was indeed a unique invitation to have a front row viewing to a maritime and historical miracle, a project of supreme American engineering and soaring ambition, to a ship that links us to the roots of American maritime tradition which regrettably seems to slip further away from us by the day.   While ‘unsinkable’ RMS Titanic got crushed by fate soon in her maiden voyage, SS United States, more than sixty years after she was launched from a navy shipyard, still stands tall, a testament to her shipbuilder’s ambition for building a ship that ‘you cannot catch her, you cannot set her on fire and you cannot sink her’.

Save SS United States!

Save SS United States!

‘America’s Flagship’ has done her duty to her country and to her owners and her passengers, glamorous or not; she has served history well. We owe it to her to keep her afloat in glamor and perseverance, to get involved, to volunteer or donate for her maintenance until the right development is found for her. One can find more about the vessel and the Conservancy at http://www.ssusc.org/ and donations are strongly encouraged at http://www.ssusc.org/give-and-join/donate/ or at https://www.savetheunitedstates.org/

The pictures taken during the recent visit are a testament to her magnificent structure and an invitation and challenge to see the ship restored to her past glory; we owe it to her!

Additional pictures, including many historical pictures collected from the internet, can be found on the Pinterest page of Karatzas Marine Advisors, board for SS United States!

 

Imposing structure: The bow of SS United States

Imposing structure: The bow of SS United States

© 2013-2014 Basil M Karatzas & Karatzas Marine Advisors & Co.  All Rights Reserved.

IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER:  Access to this blog signifies the reader’s irrevocable acceptance of this disclaimer. No part of this blog can be reproduced by any means and under any circumstances, whatsoever, in whole or in part, without proper attribution or the consent of the copyright and trademark holders of this website. Whilst every effort has been made to ensure that information here within has been received from sources believed to be reliable and such information is believed to be accurate at the time of publishing, no warranties or assurances whatsoever are made in reference to accuracy or completeness of said information, and no liability whatsoever will be accepted for taking or failing to take any action upon any information contained in any part of this website.  Thank you for the consideration.

 

Alternative Ship Finance North America 2014

                              600x210-Alternative-Ship-Finance-NA-banner                     

                  Examine how to obtain and structure finance from alternative sources                                                                                                                                                                                                            ALTERNATIVE SHIP FINANCE NORTH AMERICA 2014                                      5 – 6 May 2014, Downtown Conference Center, New York  http://www.lloydsmaritimeacademy.com/FKT2722KAWL

Deepen your understanding of alternative financing structures and sources that are available to you Attend this seminar to:

- Assess the availability of alternative finance sources in the current market

- Explore how deals have been structured through detailed case studies, including full transaction details, analysis of deal success and share price performance

- Discover what you need to do to prepare to raise alternative ship financing, including tailoring the cashflow to meet investor appetite

- Understand the financier’s lending appetite and identify opportunities for financing projects in 2014/2015

- Benefit from worked examples on how alternative finance options are sourced and structured including private equity, shipping bonds and ship leasing

Quote VIP code: FKT2722KAWL and receive a 10% discount

For more information, visit the website: http://www.lloydsmaritimeacademy.com/FKT2722KAWL

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Port of Hamburg (2)

More maritime and water-inspired pictures from the amazing City of Hamburg!

Take me to Your Port! Image Source: Basil Karatzas

Take me to Your Port! Image Source: Basil Karatzas

And your Beautiful Ships! Image source: Basil Karatzas

And your Beautiful Ships! Image source: Basil Karatzas

Ships everywhere! Image source: Basil Karatzas

Ships everywhere! Image source: Basil Karatzas

Ships are part of the City's Architecture. Image source: Basil Karatzas

Ships are part of the City’s Architecture. Image source: Basil Karatzas

Trading Ships with their Sails full! Image source: Basil Karatzas

Trading Ships with their Sails full! Image source: Basil Karatzas

And, One More! Image source: Basil Karatzas

And, One More! Image source: Basil Karatzas

Every Shipping Company's Building Should Have a Facade like this! Image source: Basil Karatzas

Every Shipping Company’s Building Should Have a Facade like this! Image source: Basil Karatzas

Just One of Hamburg's 2,300 Bridges! Image source: Basil Karatzas

Just One of Hamburg’s 2,300 Bridges! Image source: Basil Karatzas

And, One More Bridge! Image source: Basil Karatzas

And, One More Bridge! Image source: Basil Karatzas

For the Canals that Bind the City! Image source: Basil Karatzas

For the Canals that Bind the City! Image source: Basil Karatzas

Canal upstream Speicherstadt (Old Warehouse District) Image source: Basil Karatzas

Canal upstream Speicherstadt (Old Warehouse District) Image source: Basil Karatzas

Canals reaching Hamburg's Downtown. Image source: Basil Karatzas

Canals reaching Hamburg’s Downtown. Image source: Basil Karatzas

Nighttime has a special feel in Hamburg! Image source: Basil Karatzas

Nighttime has a special feel in Hamburg! Image source: Basil Karatzas

Figurehead of Windjammer Rickmer Rickmers. Image source: Basil Karatzas

Figurehead of Windjammer Rickmer Rickmers. Image source: Basil Karatzas

Hamburg's Port at Night! Image source: Basil Karatzas

Hamburg’s Port at Night! Image source: Basil Karatzas

© 2013-2014 Basil M Karatzas & Karatzas Marine Advisors & Co.  All Rights Reserved.

IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER:  Access to this blog signifies the reader’s irrevocable acceptance of this disclaimer. No part of this blog can be reproduced by any means and under any circumstances, whatsoever, in whole or in part, without proper attribution or the consent of the copyright and trademark holders of this website. Whilst every effort has been made to ensure that information here within has been received from sources believed to be reliable and such information is believed to be accurate at the time of publishing, no warranties or assurances whatsoever are made in reference to accuracy or completeness of said information, and no liability whatsoever will be accepted for taking or failing to take any action upon any information contained in any part of this website.  Thank you for the consideration.

 

Port of Hamburg

The City of Hamburg in Germany – formally known as Freie und Hansestadt Hamburg (Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg) – is a major shipping cluster and port city extraordinaire.

The city was established by the Emperor Charlemagne as a castle which he ordered constructed in 808 AD for the defenses of the northern borders of the empire.  That original castle was also crucial for providing strategic access through the Elbe River to the North Sea on the west and the Baltic Sea on the north-east. Nowadays the city itself is at the confluence of the rivers Alster and Bille; several buildings have their foundations on pylons and the city claims 2,300 bridges, more than any city in the world. Having a tradition of free spiritedness and self governance as independent city-state from its days as a free imperial city under the Holy Roman Empire (reporting to the Emperor rather than to a local prince) and access to the sea, Hamburg is a unique city in open mildness and culture.

The Port of Hamburg is about 110 kilometers from the mouth of River Elbe in the North Sea; based on latest statistics, it’s the third biggest port in Europe and the fifteenth worldwide in throughput with approximately 130 million tons of cargo moved in 2011.  Several hundred shipowners are based in Hamburg, the most notables in the recent days the so-called KG owners (Kommanditgesellschaft (abbreviated “KG”) for a limited partnership business entity.) Several of the world’s biggest shipping banks and vessel managers and also complimentary industries are based in Hamburg.

During a recent trip to Hamburg we managed to find the time for some sightseeing and picture taking:

Hamburg's Rathaus (City Hall but also Parliament for the city-state) Image source: Basil Karatzas

Hamburg’s Rathaus (City Hall but also Parliament for the city-state) Image source: Basil Karatzas

Rathaus (detail): The Seal of the City of Hamburg on the main tower. Image source: Basil Karatzas

Rathaus (detail): The Seal of the City of Hamburg on the main tower. Image source: Basil Karatzas

The Headquarters of HSH Nordbank, the biggest shipping bank. Image source: Basil Karatzas

The Headquarters of HSH Nordbank, the biggest shipping bank. Image source: Basil Karatzas

Statues everywhere! Image source: Basil Karatzas

Statues everywhere! Image source: Basil Karatzas

Modern monuments, too!  Here, a classic Mercedes 260 SEL model. Image source: Basil Karatzas

Modern monuments, too! Here, a classic Mercedes 260 SEL model. Image source: Basil Karatzas

Ships and Nautical Themes are embedded to the Culture and Architecture. Image source: Basil Karatzas

Ships and Nautical Themes are embedded to the Culture and Architecture. Image source: Basil Karatzas

Idle Containership Cranes are Waiting for the Market Recovery. Image source: Basil Karatzas

Idle Containership Cranes are Waiting for the Market Recovery. Image source: Basil Karatzas

Some Cranes Keep Selectively Busy. Image source: Basil Karatzas

Some Cranes Keep Selectively Busy. Image source: Basil Karatzas

Ro-Ro Vessel MV LINK STAR Sailing Downstream. Image source: Basil Karatzas

Ro-Ro Vessel MV LINK STAR Sailing Downstream. Image source: Basil Karatzas

Gearless, feeder containership MV SYLT Sailing Downstream. Image source: Basil Karatzas

Gearless, feeder containership MV SYLT Sailing Downstream. Image source: Basil Karatzas

Containership Vessel MV MSC EMMA Undergoing her Second Special Survey in the B+V Floating Dock. Image source: Basil Karatzas

Containership Vessel MV MSC EMMA Undergoing her Second Special Survey in the B+V Floating Dock. Image source: Basil Karatzas

The Floating Dock under Flooding. Notice that the Bowthruster is now submerged. Image source: Basil Karatzas

The Floating Dock under Flooding. Notice that the Bowthruster is now submerged. Image source: Basil Karatzas

Popeye the Sailor Man and his girlfriend Oliver are part of the Nautical Theme! Image source: Basil Karatzas

Popeye the Sailor Man and his girlfriend Oliver are part of the Nautical Theme! Image source: Basil Karatzas                                                                                                                                                                                                                     © 2013-2014 Basil M Karatzas & Karatzas Marine Advisors & Co.  All Rights Reserved

IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER:  Access to this blog signifies the reader’s irrevocable acceptance of this disclaimer. No part of this blog can be reproduced by any means and under any circumstances, whatsoever, in whole or in part, without proper attribution or the consent of the copyright and trademark holders of this website. Whilst every effort has been made to ensure that information herewithin has been received from sources believed to be reliable and such information is believed to be accurate at the time of publishing, no warranties or assurances whatsoever are made in reference to accuracy or completeness of said information, and no liability whatsoever will be accepted for taking or failing to take any action upon any information contained in any part of this website.  Thank you for the consideration.

Nautical Weather Lore

Ever since people tried to navigate the seaways, the prevailing weather has always been very crucial to the success of expeditions. To steer away from trouble like storms and hurricanes, obviously, but also to put to service natural resources long before wind and solar energy were standard terms. With tall ships completely dependent on wind to carry on with their businesses, the understanding of trade winds was the obvious subject of ‘weather forecasting’. Thus, early on, a thorough understanding of and a diligent attempt to forecast the weather elements had to be part of any good navigator’s skill set.

Since humans’ early records to understand the weather, from Aristotle’s Meteorologica around 340 B.C., a philosophical treatise with theories about the formation of rain, clouds, hail, wind, thunder, lightning, and hurricanes, meteorology has evolved into a highly quantitative science to model the movement and interaction of natural elements; think of the Earth as a huge sphere of 12,800 kilometers (8,000 miles) in diameter covered with a 40-kilometer skin of various gases, whose concentration varies both spatially and temporarily. Keeping in mind that this sphere has a bumpy surface and is rotating all the time, its tilt about the vertical access varying with the season, and also, that this sphere is heated from 150 million kilometers (93 million miles) away with about eight million quadrillion BTUs of solar energy each year reaching its surface (about 20,000 times the energy consumed by all human activity in a year), thus there is an always changing interaction among the factors determining the weather. Long before the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in the US and the Met Office with the Shipping Forecast on BBC’s Radio 4 in the UK, sailors and navigators were crystallizing shortcuts of weather patterns to become weather lore about the appearance of the sky, the shape and type of clouds, the conditions of the atmosphere, and the direction of the winds.

Red skies at sunset, Georgia (Image source: NOAA)

Red skies at sunset, Georgia (Image source: NOAA)

At sunrise and sunset, sunlight is set low on the horizon and travels disproportionally longer distance in the lower atmospheric strata in order to reach the earth surface; thus, sunlight spending more time traveling the atmospheric strata determine the weather, and thus providing more clues for its forecast. At noon, sunlight hits the surface of the Earth vertically – at least at the Equator – penetrating uniformally all atmospheric strata, and providing less of a clue about weather changes.  Preponderance of dry dust particles in the air is a proxy of lack of water vapors in the air (predecessor to rain), and thus dry air particles act as a prognosticator for lack of immediate raining.

In the Northern Hemisphere and around the mid latitudes (‘Horse Latitudes’, where becalmed vessels often threw overboard horses due to lack of water onboard the vessels), usually prevailing winds move from west to the east; whether easterly moving dry dust particles were located westerly or easterly to the observer, it has been a fair quick rule of thumb about weather forecasting.

Based on these rudimentary principles, here are few interesting nautical weather sayings for old salts and landlubbers alike:

Red sky at night, sailor’s delight,                                                                                                 Red sky in the morning, sailor’s warning.

Variations of the theme:

Evening red and morning gray, help the traveler on his way.                                               Evening gray and morning red bring down a rain upon his head.

or,

Orange or yellow, can hurt a fellow.

Red sky at night, sailor's delight, indeed! (Image source: NOAA)

Red sky at night, sailor’s delight, indeed! (Image source: NOAA)

These are perennial favorites of weather sayings with interesting scientific explanation behind it: in the mid latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere, typically weather moves from west to east, blown by the westerly trade winds, meaning that storm systems generally move in from the West.

The colors we see in the sky are due to the rays of sunlight being split into colors of the spectrum as they pass through the atmosphere and ricochet off particles and water vapor in the atmosphere. The amount of dust particles and water vapor in the atmosphere are good indicators of weather conditions. They also determine which colors we will see in the sky.

During sunrise and sunset, the sun is low in the sky and it transmits light through the thickest part of the atmosphere. A red sky suggests that lower atmospheric strata are loaded mainly with dust particles (when atmospheric pressure is high, the lower air holds more dust than water vapors) and low in water vapor concentration.  When we see a red sky at sunset, this means that the setting sun is sending its light through a high concentration of dust particles. This usually indicates high pressure and stable air coming in from the west, meaning that effectively good weather will follow. We see the red, because red wavelengths (the longest in the color spectrum) are breaking through the atmosphere. The shorter wavelengths, such as blue, are scattered and broken up.

A red sunrise reflects the dust particles of a system that has just passed from the west. This indicates that a storm system may be moving to the east. If the morning sky is a deep fiery red, it means a high water content in the atmosphere. So, rain is on its way.

The evening red sure sign of a fine day; Lighthouse at Point Judith (image source: Basil Karatzas)

The evening red sure sign of a fine day; Lighthouse at Point Judith (image source: Basil Karatzas)

A red sky in the morning can be caused by the dawn light bouncing off cirrus ice crystals in the upper atmosphere. Cirrus clouds can be at the leading edge of a frontal system and so this can also work to signal poor incoming weather.

This weather saying has been referred to in the Bible (Matthew XVI: 2-3,) when Jesus said to the fishermen, “When in evening, ye say, it will be fair weather: For the sky is red. And in the morning, it will be foul weather today; for the sky is red and lowering.”

Several centuries later, Shakespeare in his play Venus and Adonis says: ‘Like a red morn that ever yet betokened, Wreck to the seaman, tempest to the field, Sorrow to the shepherds, woe unto the birds, Gusts and foul flaws to herdmen and to herds.’

A comparable saying, incorporating the gray color has it as:

The evening red and morning gray,                                                                                               are sure signs of a fine day,                                                                                                             but the evening gray and the morning red,                                                                               makes the sailor shake his head.

Gray sky at night means that the western air is filled with moisture and it will likely rain soon.

Based on similar scientific analysis, also:

A rainbow in the morning gives you fair warning.

In the morning, in the northern hemisphere a rainbow out to the west is caused by the sun in the east refracting on water droplets to the west, similarly to producing red skies. And moisture in the air will be heading east likely to produce rain.

Likewise,

Rainbow to windward, foul fall the day;                                                                               Rainbow to leeward, rain runs away.

A rainbow from where the wind is blowing (from the west, usually, in the Northern Hemisphere) is indicating that water vapors are closing in as they are pushed with the wind, whereas a rainbow to the direction the wind is blowing (leeward), it means that water droplets have already passed the weather observer.

Related to rainbows, there is the saying of:

When the sun shines while raining,                                                                                               it will rain the same time again tomorrow.

The incident of raining while the sun is shining is called ‘sun shower’ or ‘sunshower’ and often accompanied by the formation of a rainbow.  As per rainbow explanations above, rain from westerly winds is still in the cards.

Mackerel sky, not 24 hours dry,

Or its variation:

Mackerel sky, mackerel sky,                                                                                                           never long wet, never long dry.

Or, another variation:

Mackerel sky (or scales) and mares’ tails,                                                                                     make lofty (or tall) ships carry low sails (or, Make tall ships take in their sails).

Mackerel or fish scale cloud formations are high, thin cirrocumulus clouds formed by shifting wind directions and high speeds and are typical of an advancing low pressure system or an approaching storm system or front.

‘Mare’s tails’ is a term used to describe those high cirrus clouds that are caused by strong winds high in the air.

So it stands to reason that if you have a Mackerel sky and mares’ tails together, it is going to be wet and windy.

When a halo rings the moon or sun,                                                                                           rain’s approaching on the run (or, The rain will come upon the run).

or, its variation:

If there is a halo round the sun or moon,                                                                                 then we can all expect rain quite soon.

or, 

A ring around the sun or moon,                                                                                                   means that rain will come real soon.

or

Halo around the sun or moon, rain or snow soon.

A ring or halo around a bright object like the sun or the moon is caused by refraction of the light through the ice crystals of high cirrus (cirrostratus) clouds.  The presence of these ice crystal clouds is often a sign that a weather front is on its way probably bringing rain and the brighter the circle, the greater the possibility. Cirrus can be the first cloud to appear ahead of a front. The U.S. Weather Service confirms that rain follows about 75 percent of sun halos and about 65 percent of moon halos.

Sun sets Friday clear as bell,                                                                                                           Rain on Monday sure as hell.

Unknown explanation, and we will be obliged hearing any comments and suggestions on the origin of this expression.

If clouds are gathering thick and fast,                                                                                           keep sharp look out for sail and mast,                                                                                         but if they slowly onward crawl,                                                                                                 shoot your lines, nets and trawl.

and, similarly,

When the wind is blowing in the North                                                                                         No fisherman should set forth,                                                                                                     When the wind is blowing in the East,                                                                                         ‘Tis not fit for man nor beast,                                                                                                     When the wind is blowing in the South                                                                                         It brings the food over the fish’s mouth,                                                                                   When the wind is blowing in the West,                                                                                         That is when the fishing’s best!

Collision of warm and cold air masses (image source: NOAA)

Collision of warm and cold air masses (image source: NOAA)

With the approach of a low pressure front, easterly winds typically pick up, uncomfortably warm, dry, and dusty in the summer and bitterly cold in the winter.  Northerly winds, which follow around a low, are cold and blustery.  Sailing in conditions of northerly winds requires expertise and a sturdy vessel capable of handling heavy seas.  Southerly winds typically bring warmer temperatures, and though they may not feed the fish, they do provide pleasant fishing weather.  The best is to have a westerly wind blowing since it is likely to persist for some time, the weather should remain fair and clear, and the wind should be relatively constant.

Beware the bolts from north or west;                                                                                           In south or east the bolts be best.

Meaning that storms to port going North that the storm is coming your way (from the west), while storms to starboard have passed.

A wind from the south has rain in its mouth.

On occasion attributed to Benjamin Franklin, a wind from the south usually brings rain and precedes a cold front.

When rain comes before the wind, halyards, sheets and braces mind,                                   But when wind comes before rain, soon you may make sail again.

or similarly,

With the rain before the wind, stays and topsails you must mind,                                           But with the wind before the rain, your topsails you may set again.

Winds occur when two masses of air of different pressure come into contact; for westerly prevailing winds in the Northern Hemisphere, winds before the rain indicated that the two masses of air are already in contact and thus the strong winds, with the rain following from the westerly winds. However, rain, prior to the winds, is indicative of westerly winds blowing to the east without yet reaching the weather front and creating a storm.

No weather’s ill, if the wind be still.

Typically, strong winds occur near weather fronts (frontal boundaries) where two masses of air of different pressures come into contact. Winds tend to be stronger near these frontal boundaries. When the wind is still, it tends to be toward the center of high pressure or the center of an air mass, and thus no ‘weather illness’.  Calm conditions, especially with clear skies, indicate a high pressure area and lack of any phenomena typically associated with weather, such as clouds, wind, and precipitation.  However, calm conditions may also result from a circumstance known as ‘the calm before the storm’, when a large storm cell to the west is sucking up the surface wind in its updraft before it arrives.  This situation is readily apparent by looking to the west for he approaching storm.

Similarly,

If clouds are gathering thick and fast,                                                                                     Keep sharp look out for sail and mast,                                                                                         But if they slowly onward crawl,                                                                                               Shoot your lines, nets and trawl.                                                                                                   The sudden storm lasts not three hours                                                                                       The sharper the blast, the sooner ’tis past.

When at weather fronts masses of air of different pressure and temperature forcefully interact, usually such forceful interaction lasts only for a few hours since a new approximate equilibrium of barometric pressures is achieved and thus mitigating the forcefulness of the ‘blast’.

Clear moon, frost soon.

or, similarly,

Cold is the night when the stars shine bright.

When there are no clouds to obscure the moon, there are no clouds to ‘blanket’ the earth’s surface and retain any heat that the earth absorbed during the day so, the surface will cool rapidly on a clear night.

If the new moon holds the old moon in her lap, expect fair weather.

When the new moon can be seen along with the outline of the rest of the moon (‘the old moon’) as in a shadow, then the air must be clear and stable enough for us to see faint objects in the sky. Thus, it means that the weather is fair and is likely to stay that way for a while.

The higher the clouds, the better the weather

Cumulus clouds (Image source: NOAA)

Cumulus clouds (Image source: NOAA)

For cumulus clouds, nice little woolpacks, with high bases – around 4000 feet or more, rain is unlikely. Similarly, for mackerel appearance clouds (cirrocumulus clouds) with no mare’s tails, then again, the weather looks set fair. These clouds generally indicate both dry air and high atmospheric pressure – usually associated with fair weather. Lowering ceilings indicate rain. However, ahead of a warm front, high cirrus clouds will be spreading high across the sky, a fore-runner of rain some hours later.

A piece of seaweed hung up will become damp before it rains.

As seaweed naturally absorbs water, as atmospheric humidity increases before it rains, dry seaweed gets damper easier and faster, and thus the ‘science’ behind the saying.

Similarly,

When ropes twist, forget your haying.

Natural hemp ropes and rigging have a tendency to twist as humidity rises as they get damper with water vapors from the atmosphere, thus indicating that rain will follow soon.

Similarly in terms of explanation,

When the chairs squeak, it’s of rain they speak.

Besides earthy inanimate objects having weather predicting powers, also animals, birds and fish have been known to have tried their luck with forecasting the weather:

Seagull, seagull, sit on the sand,                                                                                                     It’s a sign of rain when you are at hand (or, It’s never good weather when you’re on the land).

or,

When sea-gulls fly to land, a storm is at hand.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that animals can sense miniscule changes in the environment and their actions accordingly can predict the weather. It’s not always clear how animals exactly sense or interpret changes of atmospheric pressure or impending storms, etc, and how their sensory reception can come to their survival instincts. In general, birds and animals roost/being nothalgic more during periods of low atmospheric pressure. Before a hurricane, flocks of birds will be seen roosting; taking off may be harder when the pressure is low or the air is thinner because the natural updrafts are lessened.

Sharks go out to sea at the approach of a wave of cold weather.

Several studies have shown that sharks are known to move to deeper waters before hurricanes and storms, seeking better protection from strong waves and jeopardizing getting launched on land.

When porpoises sport and play, there will be a storm.

Frolicking porpoises (Image source: Mothership Adventures)

Frolicking porpoises (Image source: Mothership Adventures)

Porpoises are aquatic mammals similar in appearance to dolphins; porpoises are not successfully kept in captivity like dolphins. No much explanation is available why these animals, and also land animals and pets, get more playful before severe weather.  Any suggestions or explanations, we will be thankful to hear.

A backing wind says storms are nigh, but a veering wind will clear the sky.

A backing wind is a wind that turns counter-clockwise with height, while a veering wind is a wind that turns clockwise with height. A backing wind is associated with cold air advection and dynamic sinking (CCBC or CounterClockwise, Backing, Cold air advection). Ahead of a warm front, the wind will back from W or NW to SW, S and even SE. So, this can be a good predictor although not all backing winds will presage a warm front. As a cold front passes, winds will veer from a SW’ly point ahead of the front to NW behind. So, in this case, the wind veer (CVW or Clockwise, Veering, Warm air advection) will be as or after the front has passed. Winds back behind cold fronts.

If wooly fleeces deck the heavenly way, be sure no rain will mar a summer’s day.

Fleecy, wool-like white clouds are only a few hundred feet thick, indicating that they have barely developed due to condensation. As such, they are a sign the atmosphere is still relatively stable.

When boat horns sound hollow,                                                                                                     Rain will surely follow.

or, similarly,

Sound travelling far and wide,                                                                                                       a stormy day betide.

Sound travels faster in the water than in the air, and a little bit faster in humid rather than in dry air. Also, sound is absorbed to the greater extent when traveling through humid air rather than dry air. Thus, sounds in humid days – days proceeding rain, have a hollow (echo-y) effect and travel faster.

When the stars begin to huddle, the earth will soon become a puddle.

As water vapors and humidity increase in the air, in advance of rainy weather, smaller stars on the sky cease to be visible, while bigger, brighter ones overwhelm the sky and shine with a blur or a corona around them (‘fogginess’), giving the impression of cluster of stars rather individual stars.

When the bubbles of coffee collect in the center of the cup, expect fair weather. When they adhere to the cup, forming a ring, expect rain. If the bubbles separate without assuming any fixed position, expect changing weather.

Although our own empirical evidence seems to confirm this weather saying, while sailing or ashore, we have had hard time finding a logical explanation. But, as they say, it’s usually the small things in life that defy easy explanation; after all, it took Albert Einstein himself a whole doctoral dissertation in 1905 on the hydrodynamic derivation of a relation between the coefficients of viscosity of a liquid with and without suspended particles to mathematically explain how sugar dissolves in coffee; we regret that after his dissertation went on to publish with months of his dissertation his next seminal work on Brownian motion, and didn’t dedicate more brain power on the bubbles at a surface of a coffee cup!  Probably, we will have to wait for the next genius for a mathematical formula!

© 2013-2014 Basil M Karatzas & Karatzas Marine Advisors & Co.  All Rights Reserved.

IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER:  Access to this blog signifies the reader’s irrevocable acceptance of this disclaimer. No part of this blog can be reproduced by any means and under any circumstances, whatsoever, in whole or in part, without proper attribution or the consent of the copyright and trademark holders of this website. Whilst every effort has been made to ensure that information herewithin has been received from sources believed to be reliable and such information is believed to be accurate at the time of publishing, no warranties or assurances whatsoever are made in reference to accuracy or completeness of said information, and no liability whatsoever will be accepted for taking or failing to take any action upon any information contained in any part of this website.  Thank you for the consideration.

Sweden’s Tall Ship „Götheborg”

Tall ships are the last few living objects of ages past, like hands with long arms protruding from the past to our times, like long piers coming to our life from the sea of another epoch to teach us how things and life used to be back then, to narrate us with the stories, the passions and the aspirations of our collective progenitors and the people who used to ‘man’ them and their women and societies waiting for them back at their homily hearth.  Given that tall ships in many respects were the absolute epitome of their times in terms of man-made structures depending on cutthroat navigation, engineering and business enterprising that were meant to trade at the cultural intersections of a much smaller world on a much bigger globe then, with their sleek lines, their towering masts, their shapely hulls and their now unnecessary but highly romantic sails, it is no surprise that tall ships seem to always draw the attention of the touristic public. As ever, it is not cheap to maintain such vessels shipshape, but several governments and non-profit organizations have taken it upon themselves to selectively preserve some of these vessels in the name of history, national pride, education and maritime tradition.

The Swedish tall ship „Götheborg” will be our honored flagship in a series of postings on tall ships that still proudly crisscross the ocean in mostly educational and cultural missions these days, much to the delight of citizenry of visiting ports.

„Götheborg” Stern view in 2010 (Image source: Wiki Commons)

„Götheborg” Stern view in 2010 (Image source: Wiki Commons)

The modern day „Götheborg” got under planning and construction in 1994, ten years after the shipwreck of the original vessel was discovered in 1984. The construction period was long in the gestation since no plans of the original vessel were preserved and the organization for building the vessel, “The Swedish Ship Götheborg” organization (Ostindiefararen Götheborg), opted for traditional and historically accurately means of building the vessel rather than deploying modern methods of marine construction and engineering.  The vessel was built at one of the four active shipyards in 18th century Stockholm Eriksberg yard at Terra Nova In Stockholm. Her construction cost (including marine archeological surveys and research) is estimated at more than $40 million, half of it procured by the Swedish government and the rest from individual donations and sponsorships.

Götheborg’s Sailing Plan (Image source: The Swedish Ship Götheborg)

Götheborg’s Sailing Plan (Image source: The Swedish Ship Götheborg)

„Götheborg”, world’s largest operational wooden sailing vessel today, is a full-rigged, squared-sailed vessel with three masts and three decks and twenty cabins for a total crew of sixty; she has 26 sails, including the studdingsails, made of canvas, and 1,964 m2 total sail area. The mainmast and the foremast have topgallant sails, topsails and courses. The aftermast has a topsail and a Latin type spanker sail. In the bow is the bowsprit with a jib boom, and hanging below that are two more square sails: the spritsail and the sprit-topsail. The hull is 47 meters in length with 11-meter beam, 5.5 meters freeboard and 47 meters air draft. As a matter of comparison, Nelson’s man-of-war flagship HMS „Victory” launched in 1765 had a hull 57 meters length and about 5,500 m2 sail area.

More than 3,000 m2 of oak forest and one thousand oak logs had to be harvested from southern Sweden and Denmark to make the hull, and pine, spruce and elm were used for masts, jibs, spars, decks and blocks. The vessel is a faithful replica of the original East Indiamen with the exception that the lower and upper decks have 10 cm more headroom (sailing ships had their decks in short proximity that would not allow for people to walk upright).  The vessel also has received the benefit of modern technology and several amenities in certain respects, such as two folding propellers and two 550 hp engines, power generator and power circuits, high-pressure sprinklers for fire safety, modern kitchen with fridges and freezers, water generators for producing drinking water, ventilation, air conditioning and a complete laundry room. Modern amenities are concealed within the ship creating ‘two ships in one’ and allowing for the vessel to be classed by DNV for ocean going navigation and keeping abreast with current maritime safety regulations.

Sweden was trading with China over terrain through the Silk Road still several decades after the other European powers (English, French, Dutch, Danish and Portuguese) had established their East India companies and had launched commercial fleets of imposing wooden sailing vessels (“East Indiamen”) to trade tea, silk, spices and porcelain, the hot commodities of the time, and make fortunes in the process.  England in 1600 and the Netherlands in 1602 were the fist to establish their trading companies (East India Company and Dutch East India Company, respectively) for trading with the exotic Orient, while Sweden was last to the game in 1732 with the Swedish East India Company (Svenska Ostindiska Companiet, “SOIC”). Although small by European standards, the company was huge in Sweden at the time and had tremendous impact on the insular Swedish society; it is said that SOIC has been the most profitable company in Sweden ever. Between 1732 and 1813, the company undertook 132 expeditions with 38 ships, eight of which that were perished. Under the company’s royal charter, SOIC could employ as many vessels as needed, but all had to be built in Sweden, flying the Swedish flag and carrying Swedish documents; all expeditions had to originate from and terminate at the port of Gothenburg, where all imported goods were auctioned upon arrival; the state was receiving a flat fee per expedition form the company plus imposed percentage tax on the sales of the goodies. Although the company enjoyed secrecy for this roster of shareholders and its finances, it is believed than many voyages generated more than 60% return on invested capital – each voyage was a standalone project – and it’s said that several modern wealthy Swedish families derive their status and original wealth from the SOIC.

The first vessel of SOIC, the „Friedericus Rex Sueciae”, sailed from Gothenburg on 9 February 1732 and reached Canton (Guangzhou), the main port of China at the time, 181 days later; on her return voyage, she was arrested by the Dutch between Java and Sumatra, and was brought to Batavia (Dutch colonies in Indonesia) on suspicion of piracy (for a vessel flying the Swedish flag in the Pacific Ocean was not a common sight after all, but likely the Dutch were protecting their ‘franchise’, should we say), and eventually the vessel was released unharmed; the vessel reached the port of Gothenburg in late summer 1733, eighteen whole months after her commencing of the expedition; the first trip was very successful, even by today’s private equity standards, as it delivered 25% dividend on capital invested.

„Götheborg” Model at Jakarta's Maritime Museum (Image source: Basil M Karatzas)

„Götheborg” Model at Jakarta’s Maritime Museum (Image source: Basil M Karatzas)

The original vessel „Götheborg” was built in Terra Nova in Gothenburg in 1738, six years after the royal charter of SOIC. She completed two successful uneventful round voyages to China. Her third voyage took thirty months to develop, including a five-month wait period in Java for the right winds to sail the vessel westerly, and finally, in September 1745 with her cargo holds laden to the beams with tea, silk, porcelain, tutanego (zinc), spices and much more, within sight of the coast and with pilot onboard, the „Götheborg” run aground on well charted rock Knipla Hunnebådan, around 900 metres west of Nya Älvsborgs Fästning, started taking water and finally sunk. Thankfully, there was no loss of life and some of the cargo was partially salvaged. Despite the loss of the vessel and most of the cargo, it’s said that her last voyage still generated 17% return for her investors.

The Swedish Underwater Archaeology Society’s Gothenburg group has undertaken several exploratory missions to the site of the shipwreck since 1984, and with most of the wreck buried in the seabed, extensive marine archaeological surveys took place every summer until 1992, to retrieve sizeable pieces of her hull, cargo and crucial information to build a faithful replica of the vessel. It took almost ten year from keel laying to completing the modern copy, always using traditional shipwright means, and her launching took place on Sweden’s National Day on June 3rd 2003 in the presence of the Swedish Royal Family. The maiden voyage of the vessel in October 2005 could only have one destination (China!) after calling ports of the original route in Cadiz, Spain, Cape Town, South Africa and Jakarta, Indonesia. It is said that the state visit of Chinese president Hu Jintao to Stockholm in June 2007 was planned to coincide with the return of the vessel to Gothenburg from her maiden voyage to China.

„Götheborg” next expedition commences in March 2014 from Gothenburg with expected arrival to Quanzhou, China on October 1st, China’s National Day.

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