Guest Post by Robin Denny: The Five-Masted Full-Rigged Ship Preussen

Preussen under full sail

We recently posted about the five-masted full-rigged cruise ship Royal Clipper, a modern sailing ship designed as an homage to the great five-masted windjammer Preussen. We are very pleased to have a guest post about the mighty windjammer by Robin Denny: 

With the Peking now back in her home port of Hamburg, perhaps it is opportune to mention another of the Flying P sailing ships, the great Preussen. A five-masted full-rigged ship, 482′ LOA, with square sails on all masts, she was one of the fastest sailing ships, matching the Clippers with speeds up to 20 knots.

Built in Geestemünde, Germany, she was launched in May, 1902 with her hull, masts, spars and rigging, both cable and rods, all being of steel. She proved to be a well found and weatherly, sailing, among other destinations, to Chile, Japan and New York, where most of New York turned out to welcome her.

Near midnight on 5th. November, 1910, under Captain Jochim Nissen, sailing south-west down the English Channel at about 16 knots she encountered the cross-Channel ferry steamer Brighton.

A fast turbine steamer, Brighton, 273ft. LOA had been built by Wm.Denny Bros. at Dumbarton, Scotland, and launched 13th June, 1903 for the ferry service Newhaven, England to Dieppe, France. Her speed on trials was 21.37 knots.

Wreck of the Preussen

Closing fast, 8 miles south of Newhaven, under Col. Regs. the Brighton had right of way being off the starboard bow of Preussen, except that steam gives way to sail. Completely misjudging Preussen‘s speed, the Brighton attempted to cross in front of her but hit her bow, carrying away the bowsprit, forward stays and bringing down Preussen’s fore top-mast.

Brighton returned immediately to Newhaven for assistance from the tug Alert which towed Preussen 40 miles NE to Dover where she was anchored. Later, in a rising gale both Preussen‘s anchor chains parted leaving her to be driven ashore near Crab Bay, South Foreland, some 3 miles beyond Dover port, breaking her back. All her crew survived.

Her eroded hull can still be seen at Low-Water Springs.

Four years ago I was on board MV Saga Sapphire, returning from Norway behind schedule due to engine trouble. Since a berth was not available she had to anchor just off the South Foreland. On weighing the anchor it was found to have snagged a heavy steel cable. I do wonder if that was one of Preussen‘s stays or shrouds?

About the author: Robin Denny’s family ran the Wm. Denny & Bros shipyard in Scotland for 130 years.

This entry was posted in History, Lore of the Sea, Rigging, Ships and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Guest Post by Robin Denny: The Five-Masted Full-Rigged Ship Preussen

  1. Tom Cunliffe says:

    Very interesting post. Thanks. Without wishing to sound Blimpish, the remarks about the Colregs are curious. The initial statement that Brighton had right of way being off the starboard bow of Preussen is incorrect on two counts. First, Right of way as such doesn’t exist. There’s only a ‘stand-on’ and a ‘give-way’ vessel. In this case, who was on whose starboard bow is irrelevant. Preussen was always going to be stand-on as she was under sail. I appreciate that’s what the post goes on to say, but the way it is laid out might give those not well versed in the Colregs cause to wonder…

  2. Robin Denny says:

    My apologies to Mr. Cunliffe who is correct in stating there is no “right of way” in Col Regs, only “Stand-on” which itself is qualified. I put it thus for brevity but it could have been better. Sorry to have misled anyone.
    In a vaguely similar situation when helming a 90ft.ketch under sail across the English Channel I was unaware that we were showing a steaming light on the main mast. The five whistle blasts from the cargo ship crossing astern were fully deserved! Seems the Skipper was unaware also.

  3. Rick Spilman says:

    “Right of way” is one of those phrases like “life-savers,” “life-preserver” or “life-jackets.” The proper term is “personal flotation device” but “life-saver” is more evocative. I even heard a Coast Guard Admiral refer to “life-savers.” There is no “right of way” in Colregs but then everyone knows what one means.

  4. Greg Caldecott says:

    Hi Tom,
    As an old seadog ( 50 odd years at sea) and Master Mariner , but alas not a shellback, they are no more, although as you yourself I have done a bit under square rig. Although noted, it was not so much the Coll. Regs, that grated but that how can they compare the mighty “Prussian” with a passenger carrying abortion like the plastic “Royal Clipper”.
    If a landsmen fancies a trip as a passenger on a square rigger, albeit a pretty brig, try signing on “Eye Of The Wind” you can take your ease our pull your tripe’s out.. as you please.
    Captain Greg

  5. Greg Caldecott says:

    In the mood for writing,
    In all my long life at sea they were called lifejackets. May Wests, Victory etc. were just pet names as I remember. I have sailed with all types issued currently and after the War, even the old cork neck breakers .
    Although maybe not as efficient in preserving your life when in the water as the latest models, the victory type gave you more movement and gave you a bit of warmth. Try getting into a liferaft with something trying to throw you on your back as the “latest” in the 1980’s.
    One last note, I guess not many sailors get sea water wet these days, the old timers used to say that sea water didn’t do you any harm. They were telling lies!!!!! to be polite.
    Captain Greg

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