Tag Archives: tall ships

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.

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

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‘Royal’ sailing

Probably one of the greatest temptations and charms of the shipping industry has  been its extremely volatile nature and mercurial reflections of the underlying economics of the trading cargoes and their own market dynamics thereof. In statistics, volatility is expressed as standard deviation, but it’s hard expressing shipping in terms of standard deviations when in the last decade, in the VLCC and capesize markets – allegedly two of the most volatile sub-sectors on the industry, spot rates have ranged from zero to more than $200,000 pd, with an average rate below $50,000 pd, depending on the time window used for the calculations.

Fortunes have been made (and lost) in shipping for those who were perspicacious enough or audacious enough or lucky enough to make the right bets at the right time, usually bets on riding the wave of a strategic shift in the markets. Probably the most famous examples have been the success of the ‘Golden Greeks’ Aristotle Onassis and Stavros Niarchos building ever bigger tankers accommodating the huge discoveries of crude oil in Middle East and the rapidly improving standards of the middle class in the US and its exponential energy demands (think of the 5,000 cc Cadillacs, etc)

Besides the changing dynamics of demand for tonnage that can cause big waves in shipping, sometimes structural shifts in tonnage supply can have as much impact on successfully making bets.

While we were re-reading recently   ‘Last of the Cape Horners', a book based on firsthand accounts of seamen sailing on the last voyages of full rigged vessels around the Cape Horn, south of the Land of Fire and through the Drake Passage, we were reminded that every so often shifts in tonnage supply have also been a great wealth creator (or destroyer) in shipping.

In the middle of the 19th century, the ‘tea trade’ was the golden age of the clipper vessels, usually three-masted, square-rigged vessels that had relatively narrow beam for their length

Rounding the Horn, unknown date (source: Wiki)

Rounding the Horn, unknown date (source: Wiki)

and relatively small cargo capacity for their size and could ‘clip’ the waves. The clippers were the vessels of preference for the ‘grain race’ and ‘opium war’ trades with the East Indies, China, Australia and the colonies (the „Cutty Sark” at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, UK is an eminent sample of such vessels).  The introduction of steam and the steamship of the industrial revolution forced originally the evolution and building of barques and windjammers  (steel-hulled vessels with five or more masts and squared rigs) where cargo capacity maximization was more important than speed in an effort to compete with steamships.  By the first decades of the 20th century it became obvious that the steamship was the way of the future.  The technical obsolesce for sailing ships forced the sale of many of those vessels at scrap-related prices to ‘poor’ then Scandinavian countries (mainly, Norway and Finland) with maritime tradition; the windjammer „Parma” was sold in 1932 at scrap related pricing of $10,000 to Finnish buyers, but she made for them $40,000 profit in her first year of ownership.

Fast forward several decades later, and the introduction of double-hull tankers forced many owners to sell their fleets of single-hull tonnage; the move was pronounced by the publicly traded owners who wanted to present early to Wall Street their environmental credentials, about fifteen years ago, and well before the ‘drop dead’ deadline of 2010.  Most of these vessels were sold at scrap related prices, and their buyers (mostly independent Greek, Norwegian and Asian shipowners) made a killing when the market subsequently took off and there was little differentiation between single- and double-hull freight rates. The technical obsolesce of the single-hull tonnage was the fortune creator of many a modern shipping fortunes.  Again, the successful bet had been on buying good quality, fairly modern vessels with the ‘stigma’ of the single-hull, and not primarily buying the brand-new, double-hull vessels at elevated prices (elevated due to increased demand as the ‘herd’ shift was taking on, and also improvements in the freight rate market).

Since the collapse of freight rates in 2008, the mantra of the shipping industry (at least a section of it) has been about ‘eco design’ vessels and an ensuing program of heavy newbuilding (despite the continuous malaise of the markets).  In our humble opinion, many of these newbuilding orders are not justified, and the main effect will be keeping the markets oversupplied for years to come; although this will eventually force out of the market ‘bad’ vessels (and there are plenty of them, even some modern of them from ‘greenfield’ yards), it will keep vessel prices depressed indiscriminately even for modern, quality vessels. There will be sharp and astute vessel operators and managers who would make a fortune from such vessels.

The barque „Parma” in 1931 established the fastest sailing time by a sailing ship, reaching Falmouth, Cornwall, England from Port Victoria in South Australia in just 83 days when the ‘average’ time was about 120 days.  Between her sleek hull and the favorable weather, the vessel had spread its full suit of sails for most of the voyage, including the royals (light, usually fair weather sails set high on mast of square-riggers).  It was indeed a sailing deserving ‘royal’ appreciation in its own feat but also as a herald of her remaining trading life…

The stories old ships can tell…

Barque „Parma" (source: Wiki)

Barque „Parma” (source: Wiki)

© 2013 Basil M Karatzas & Karatzas Marine Advisors & Co.

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„Charles W. Morgan” – The story of the last whaleship: work of love, sweat and tears, but of blood, too

The Mystic Seaport museum in Connecticut launched in late July the sailing whaleship „Charles W Morgan”, allegedly the oldest and only remaining whaleship in the world. The „Morgan” was originally built in 1841 in New Bedford, Massachusetts when New Bedford and the adjacent area was then a major, and very prospering, whaling center worldwide. Like the wooden ships of her time, her expected life – between the dangers of limited maneuverability depending heavily on weather elements, cannibals and mutiny, Arctic ice and Confederate raiders, fire, woodworms, saltwater, was not expected to top twenty years, but it turned out that the „Morgan”, despite her many close calls, she ended up making an unheard of 37 voyages during eight decades of prime commercial life (average voyage duration was about four years.) Some interesting ‘personal’ accounts of her original ownership and the early restoration efforts can be found here.

Charles W Morgan - Outline

Charles W Morgan – Outline

It cost about $27,000 to built the vessel at the yard of Jethro and Zachariah Hillman, and about another $26,000 to outfit her, about $1.5 million in total in today’s money. Her least profitable trip made about $200,000 while her most profitable trip brought in about four million dollars, all at today’s purchasing power again. Over her trading career, she generated more than $32 million in gross profits (at today’s PPP), mostly in the form of sperm oil, a waxy ester (prized as illuminant because of its bright, odorless flame), and whale oil made from the blubber of baleen whales (used for the production of soap, margarine and as cheaper illuminant due to her darker flame and fishy odor.)  At 110 ft long, 27 ft beam and 17 ft draft, she had three decks, sailing capacity of 13,000 square feet and with about 35 crew, she was classed as a 351 ton whaling ship. She could hold 3,000 barrels of 31.5 gallons each; given that, on average, each whale could fill fifteen barrels, each of the voyages meant the life of 200 whales, implying that the ship has been the production plant (and graveyard) of 7,000 whales. Just one ship.

We are of the opinion that killing whales is a despicable practice in our days and ought to be banned altogether, but we have to admit that whaling was ‘big business’ a couple of centuries ago and the industry has been the cause for advancement of naval architecture and navigation, exploration and trade, and a pillar of the development and growth of most of the New England area in the USA and many other ‘clusters’ for the trade worldwide.

We feel strongly and enthusiastically about the Mystic’s diligent work to rebuilt and restore the vessel to her original condition based on tools and craftsmanship technique from the time of her original construction.  The restoration so far has taken more than five years and has cost about seven million dollars employing 60 people.

Charles W Morgan - Under restoration (image cource: Wiki Commons)

Charles W Morgan – Under restoration (image source: Wiki Commons)

Imagine, if you please, what would be to sail on the vessel at her time: thirty five crew members packed in quarters no larger than two bedrooms, sailing around the Cape Horn for four years, away from families and loved ones, living on rations, no fresh food and vegetables onboard, with potable water stored in wooden casks for months, no bath, shower or toilet (just a ‘head’) battling the elements of nature, harpooning whales from the four small whale boats, towing the poor humongous beasts to the mother vessel, manually cutting, mincing, lifting, ‘trying out’ huge chunks of the meat, working on your knees and soaked in blood and fat (the decks of the vessel were not high enough to stand up, in order to preserve space.) With the exception of the captain and the first officer, a modern observer could justifiably say that being on the ship at such time was sort of voluntary indenture.

Working quarters - Elbows & Frames

Working quarters – Elbows & Frames

How many things have changed since then? The ships; the people; the culture and the morals; ethics and what’s ‘right’ and ‘wrong’; major trades and industries important to local societies and even nations… Ships always have a story to share… from the people who dreamt of them, to the people who built them, to the people who sailed on them, to the people who serviced them, to the people who restored them way past their trading life.

We should take a minute listen to their sort of ‘Siren song’!

Charles W Morgan - In her previous glory (Photo credit: Mystic Seaport)

Charles W Morgan – In her previous glory (Photo credit: Mystic Seaport)

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

Unless otherwise stated, images are provided by Karatzas Marine Advisors & Co. No part of this blog can be reproduced by any means or under any circumstances, in whole or in part, without proper attribution or the consent of the copyright and trademark holders.