Nautical Blog Hop & A Week of Windjammers – Remembering the Pamir, Last Cargo Carrying Windjammer

pamir2When did the great age of sail finally end?  (Some would argue that it is not yet over.)  If one was to pick a single date when it finally came to a close,  I would choose today, fifty six years ago, September 21, 1957, when the last cargo carrying windjammer, Pamir, sank off the Azores in Hurricane Carrie. Her cargo of grain, which had not been properly stowed, shifted in the storm and the ship capsized.  Of her crew of 86, including 52 cadets, only 6 survived.

The windjammers hung on so long because a few owners continued to find ways to make them pay. In the 1920s and 30s, several sailing ship owners including Carl Laeisz and Gustav Erickson began to carry trainees aboard their ships. These trainees were apprentices from steamship lines and as well as young men seeking adventure. These young men paid the shipowners for their training. With no or low fuel costs and trainees covering much or all of crew costs, the windjammers’ could still often make money even with very low paying cargo.

The Pamir had been built in 1905 for the the German shipping company F. Laeisz of Hamburg.  She was a steel, four masted barque, setting royals over double t’gallants.  Her gross tonnage was 3,020 and her deadweight tonnage was 4,500.  She had an overall length of 114.5 m (375 ft), a beam of about 14 m (46 ft) and a draft of 8 m (26.2 ft).  She carried a total of 3,800 m² (40,900 ft²) of sail and could reach a top speed of 16 knots (30 km/h).  She was the last commercial sailing ship to round Cape Horn, in 1949.

She was one of ten near sister ships, built for the the South American nitrate trade.  As all Laeisz ships since 1885 had names starting with “P” they were known as the “Flying P Liners.”  Laeisz sold the Pamir in 1931 to the Finnish shipping company of Gustaf Erikson, which used her in the Australian wheat trade. During and after World War II she was briefly sailed under New Zealand flag,  before being returned to Ericson Line in 1948.  She was due to be scrapped in 1951 when a German shipowner, Heinz Schliewen, purchased the Pamir and her near sister, Passat, to be converted to cargo-carrying school ships.  The ships were fitted with auxiliary engines, refrigeration, radio communications and new accommodation spaces.

By 1957, the Pamir was not able to turn a profit. Repairs and maintenance were deferred.  Experienced ships officers were difficult to find.  When the ship sailed from Buenos Aires for Hamburg on August 10, 1957, her cargo of barley was improperly stowed and, based on the observed rolling period,  the ship had inadequate stability.  When the ship was struck by Hurricane Carrie off the Azores, the grain shifted and the ship capsized. Only 6 of the 86 aboard survived.

The Passat, also sailing as cargo carrying school ship, was laid up after the sinking.  The age of cargo carrying sailing ships, had come to an end.

Remarkably, the Passat and three other Flying P liners have survived.  The Passat is a youth hostel and museum ship in the German port of Travemünde.  The Peking is barely holding on as a museum ship at New York’s South Street Seaport. The Pommern is a museum ship in Mariehamn, Finland.  Most remarkable of all, the the Padua is still sailing as the school ship, Kruzenshtern, under Russian flag.

Writers aboard the Blog Hop – do please pay them all a visit!

  1.  J.M Aucoin
  2. Helen Hollick 
  3. Doug Boren
  4. Linda Collison
  5. Margaret Muir
  6. Julian Stockwin
  7. Anna Belfrage
  8. Andy Millen
  9. V.E. Ulett
  10. T.S. Rhodes
  11. Mark Patton
  12. Alaric Bond
  13. Ginger Myrick
  14. Judith Starkston
  15. Seymour Hamilton
  16. Rick Spilman
  17. James L Nelson
  18. S.J. Turney
  19. Prue Batten
  20. Antoine Vanner
  21. Joan Druett
  22. Edward James
  23. Nighthawk News
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5 Responses to Nautical Blog Hop & A Week of Windjammers – Remembering the Pamir, Last Cargo Carrying Windjammer

  1. walt stevens says:

    Passat means Trade Wind in German, and the Passat Flying P-Liner is also in the Web Definitions.
    -As always thanks!

  2. I was a third year deck apprentice also in the North Atlantic hurricane Carrie. How did they find out that the cargo had shifted? I had always understood that she was “sailed under” by carrying to much sail too late.

    Good Watch.

  3. Rick Spilman says:

    Here is the account from Wikipedia, which I believe is based on the Commission report of her sinking:

    On 10 August 1957 the Pamir left Buenos Aires for Hamburg with a crew of 86, including 52 cadets. Her cargo of 3,780 tons of barley was stored loose in the holds and ballast tanks, secured by 255 tons in sacks stacked on top of the loose grain.[8] Records indicate that this was one of the major mistakes implicated in the sinking of the ship – she had been held up by a dockworkers’ strike, and Captain Diebitsch, under severe pressure to sail, decided to let the trimming (the correct storage of loose cargo so that it does not shift in the hold) be done by his own untrained crew. It was later found that he also had the ballast tank filled with barley. Even though testing of the roll period (the time the ship took to right itself after load transfers) showed that the ship was dangerously unsafe, Diebitsch decided to sail.[9]

    On the morning of 21 September 1957 the ship was caught in Hurricane Carrie before shortening sails. It was later considered that because the radio officer had also been given substantial administrative tasks (to save the money required for another officer’s position), he had likely not received any of the radio storm warnings. Pamir had also not responded to radio hails by ships that had sighted her earlier in the voyage.[9] She soon listed severely to port in the sudden storm. As hatchways and other openings were not closed at once, they probably allowed considerable amounts of water to enter, as found by the commission who examined the probable causes of the sinking.[9] The shipping company’s lawyer at the investigation claimed that the water entered the ship due to a leak. According to the commission, the water caused her to list further and the grain cargo to shift, which aggravated the list.

    The captain did not order the flooding of her grain-filled ballast tanks, which would have helped her to right herself again. Once she listed severely, the lifeboats could not be deployed anymore because her port side was under water and her starboard side was raised to an angle that did not allow use of the boats.

  4. Rick thank you for your reply. I found it interesting because when we carried grain during my four (4) year apprenticeship with ISL od Dublin, Ireland we also carried it in the ballast deep tanks. The lower holds were filled and trimmed with feeders built in the tween decks which replaced the settled grain in the lower holds. I can remember rare occasions when a feeder would nearly empty in heavy weather but rarely in more than two holds, of the five, at most. Frankly I am greatly surprised that a German sailing ship Master would sail as it is reported he did. I must say I find the Commissions findings questionable even very questionable.
    Good Watch.

  5. Rick Spilman says:

    I have read that the Passat, also sailing as a cargo carrying training ship, almost had the same fate as the Pamir, due to a shifting cargo of barley. I’ve come across a USCG Proceedings from August 1958 that discusses the sinking and the inquiry. You might find it to be interesting.

    Proceedings of the Merchant Marine Council – USCG August 1958