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Training in Sail To-day

Those who desire it can still be trained for the sea in sailing ships, and there are a number of special ships in which voyages of instruction can be made. For certain appointments, both British and foreign, such experience in a sailing ship is compulsory

THE CRISTOFORO COLOMBO is one of the best-known naval training shipsWITHIN recent years the question of training in sail or steam has become controversial, and it is sometimes difficult to approach it without raising ill-feeling on one side or the other. Not all steam-trained men believe that they have missed nothing by having been too late for sail training. Not all the “shellbacks” who learned their craft in the days of “sticks and string” will agree that sail is a necessary training for a smart sailor.

THE CRISTOFORO COLOMBO, which was built for the Italian navy in 1928, is one of the best-known naval training ships. This vessel is heavily rigged and resembles in appearance the 80-gun ships of Nelson’s time. Her displacement tonnage is 2,787, and, being a comparatively new ship, she is well equipped with navigational and other apparatus of the latest types that are necessary for sea training in modern methods.

The subject is far too technical and involved for its pros and cons to be discussed within the limits of a short chapter, but the facilities which are offered for sail training to-day are interesting in themselves.

Experience in sailing vessels is still insisted upon in certain services. At home there are sections of the pilotage service, especially the sea and Channel sides of the London district, for which the applicant must have had sail training. In Germany the aspirant for a mate’s ticket must have spent fifty months before the mast, of which twenty must have been in sail. Scandinavian countries also demand a period of that experience before they will grant a young officer his certificate. There are many navies, also, which favour a spell in sail. But, as the commercial sailing ship has been driven off the seas almost entirely, the greater part of all this sail training has to be obtained in special vessels, of which there are a number now at work.

Under the British flag there is at the time of writing only one ship left which qualifies as a square-rigger, and she is only a little three-masted barquentine - square-rigged on the foremast and fore and aft on the other two masts. The Waterwitch was built at Poole, Dorset, in 1871, and has a gross tonnage of 207. She is employed exclusively on the coasting trade and is officered entirely by keen youngsters - some of them with considerable experience in liners - who are bent on entering the Trinity House Pilot service.

Under the Finnish flag, Captain Gustav Erikson has the biggest sailing fleet left, employed partly in the Australian grain trade, partly in bringing short timber from the Baltic to the British Isles, and partly in miscellaneous tramping service. He finds that so many youngsters are anxious to grasp one of the few opportunities of sail experience that his ships are manned almost entirely by boys and young men. Those who are anxious to serve an apprenticeship in his ship are willing to pay a considerable premium.

Under the German flag the firm of F. Laeisz of Hamburg, which formerly owned some of the finest sailing ships in the world in its Flying “P” Line of nitrate carriers, now possesses only two sailing vessels, the Padua (3,064 tons), and Priwall (3,185 tons). After having been relegated to the South Australian grain trade for a time, these two survivors are now returning to their original nitrate business. Similarly, the firm of F. A. Vinnen, which formerly vied with the Flying “P” Line for the premier place among German sailing-ship owners, now possesses only one big sailing ship, the Magdalene Vinnen (3,476 tons), and a few postwar schooners. All these have been given auxiliary diesel machinery, mostly taken out of, or intended for, German submarines.

Under other flags there are a certain number of old barques, schooners, brigantines and other sailing vessels, but their number is decreasing annually. Even the Grand Banks schooner fleet, so famous as a nursery for fine seamen, is declining rapidly, as the ships lost are not replaced.

Most of the sail training in former days was done in the course of commercial voyages. Nowadays the sailing ship has practically no chance of earning her living, except in one or two odd trades whose services happen to suit her well. The war of 1914-18 was responsible for the destruction of large numbers of sailing ships. After the Armistice still more were broken up. But even if the war had not occurred it is doubtful whether the sailing ship would have been employed much more than she is to-day, for the opening of the Panama Canal spoiled most of her remaining long-distance trades.

Before the war several of the big lines had their own sail-training schemes. The Navigazione Generate Italiana maintained the steel ship Sant’ Erasmo, built as the Aspice in 1894. The North German Lloyd ran the Herzogin Sophie Charlotte, formerly the Albert Rickmers, and was so pleased with her performance that it built the four-masted steel barque Herzogin Cecilie, of 3,242 tons gross, in 1902. The Danish Forenede Line had the Viking of 1907, a steel four-masted barque of 2,952 tons, and for some years before the war the White Star Line maintained the steel ship Mersey to supply it with the right type of cadets. After the war the Danish East Asiatic Company, one of the most up-to-date shipping companies in the world and the pioneer of the ocean-going motor-ship built the five-masted barque Kobenhavn, 3,901 tons gross; but in December 1928 she left the River Plate for Melbourne and has never been heard of since. The only ship-owners who have sail training facilities nowadays are one or two in Northern Europe who have an agreement with owners of sailing ships.

At the present time, therefore, with the exception of the few sailing ships already mentioned, the only chance of a merchant seaman obtaining sail experience is with the official and semi-official bodies specially raised for the purpose.

Continental Training Methods

Sir William Garthwaite, the owner of the Garthpool, the last big ocean-going British sailing ship, suggested the idea of the Sea Lion Sail Training Ship Society, but at the time of writing it has made no practical progress, any more than have several somewhat similar schemes. There is a scheme afoot to send the former four-masted schooner yacht Westward, built as a Scandinavian trading vessel after the war, to sea as a cadet ship. In the meantime the only one is the little Joseph Conrad, a tiny full-rigged ship of only 203 tons, which was built in 1882 and for fifty-two years served as the Danish training ship Georg Stage. She was bought by Mr. Alan Villiers, an enthusiastic believer in the value of sail training, and sent round the world with a number of premium apprentices.

On the Continent they are more fortunate. There are numerous sail training organizations, of which the best known is, perhaps, the Deutscher Schulschiff Verein. This was founded in 1900 by a number of leading German shipowners and merchants, particularly those from Hamburg and Bremen. It received support from practically the whole of the German Empire, and a large part of its success was due to the enthusiasm of its patron, the Hereditary Grand Duke of Oldenburg, after whose family most of its early ships were named.

H.M.S. MARTIN was used as a training brig

H.M.S. MARTIN, 508 tons displacement, was used as a training brig until many innovations were introduced early in the twentieth century by the late Lord Fisher. These innovations included the establishment of Osborne and Dartmouth Naval Colleges and the training together of executive officers, engineers and marines up to the rank of lieutenant. For a number of years after the general adoption of the steam engine, officers and seamen of the Royal Navy continued to undergo sail training. There are many who advocate the revival of this practice.

The Association’s first ship was the Grossherzogin Elisabeth, specially built for training. She is still in existence, although she is now permanently moored close to the Nautical School at Finkenwarder. The sea-going training is now carried out by the Schulschiff Deutschland, a fine steel ship of 1,257 tons gross, which was built in 1927.

The handicap under which the Association works is that the fees which have to be charged prevent the signing on of any boy who is not lucky enough to possess well-to-do parents.

In Norway, where the Viking tradition is still strong, there are local organizations at Oslo, Bergen and other ports. These organizations train men for the Norwegian Navy - all of the officers of which have to spend some time before the mast in a sailing ship - as well as for the Merchant Service.

The Oslo Training Ship Institution has for years employed the Statsraad Erichsen, a very smart little brig, of only 119 tons gross, smaller even than the Joseph Conrad, and built in 1859. At the time of writing the institution awaits the delivery of a much finer ship, 200 feet long, having auxiliary diesel engines. She is to give deep sea instruction to 100 cadets. At Bergen there is a much bigger vessel, the Statsraad Lehmkuhl, an auxiliary barque of over 1,700 tons, which was built in 1914 as the German training ship Grossherzog Friedrich August.

The finest-equipped organization is that of Christiansand, which owns Sorlandet, a beautiful full-rigged ship of 577 tons, built in 1926. The fact that a comparatively small shipping community such as Christiansand was willing and able to put up approximately £50,000 for training lads for the sea is a remarkable tribute to its sea-mindedness. For, although Sorlandet makes long ocean cruises, she carries no cargo, but has been designed purely for the purpose of training. The eighty odd boys are divided at sea into two watches of about forty each, the budding cooks and stewards being “idlers”.

When the World’s Exhibition was held at Chicago in 1933 it was Sorlandet that was chosen to represent Norway. In Sweden the Abraham Rydberg Foundation is the most important organization for training. Mr. Abraham Rydberg was a Stockholm merchant and shipowner who died in 1845. He left a large part of his fortune, including waste land (now valuable property in the heart of the City of Stockholm) to form a nautical school in the city and to give young Swedes the opportunity of a really first-class training.

On the Australian Run

Mr. Rydberg’s foundation was a wise charity of great national importance, but it was not until about five years after this death that all the legal tangle had been unravelled and the present foundation was put on its feet with a Royal Charter. There is now a certain amount of Government control, but the work has always been carried out with such enthusiasm that there is little need of it. The foundation began work with a little brig, the Carl Johan, which was so small that her cruises were severely restricted. She was replaced by a bigger full-rigged ship named Abraham Rydberg, which in turn was replaced by a still bigger ship in 1912.

In 1929 the institute bought the four-masted barque Star of Greenland, originally the Hawaiian Isles, from the Alaska Packers Association and fitted her out as a first-class training ship, after rechristening her the Abraham Rydberg. She has been used as a training ship ever since and is always engaged in the Australian grain trade.

Her crew consists of five officers, seven stewards and forty cadets between sixteen and twenty years of age, some of whom have already been to sea in steamers. The time on board consists of one voyage of from nine to eleven months, although a few cadets are permitted to stay for a second cruise. They pay a premium of about £40 a year. Although her work is somewhat hampered by laws and regulations, the ship contrives to turn out magnificent youngsters who are fully appreciated by Swedish shipowners.

THE FORE-TOP of the Italian naval training ship Cristoforo Colombo

THE FORE-TOP of the Italian naval training ship, Cristoforo Colombo. This photograph illustrates the intricacy of her rigging, but the vessel is not dependent solely on her sails, since she is fitted with diesel-electric auxiliary machinery. She thus affords her crew a valuable training with modern submarine engines as well as with sail.

In addition, a large number of Swedish lads are trained in the trading ship C. B. Pedersen, built as the Italian Emanuele Accame in 1891. She takes part in the movement of South Australian grain each year, but plans her voyage for the benefit of her cadets, often being towed through the Panama Canal, so that she does not take part, in the “race”. This ship has had a varied career and has borne a number of names. Now, however, she seems to have settled down thoroughly to her training and trading service, and it would appear that her adventurous days are over.

In Denmark, another country in which the Viking tradition is strong, the work is carried out by the Danmark, a magnificent auxiliary full-rigged ship of 1,430 tons displacement, built in 1933 for the Danish Ministry of Shipping; and by the Georg Stage, another auxiliary full-rigged ship, built in 1935 to replace the little vessel of the same name, which had been sold to Mr. Alan Villiers and had become the Joseph Conrad, as has already been mentioned.

The Danmark carries out ocean voyages, but the Georg Stage, whose gross tonnage is only 298, generally limits her cruises to the Baltic and North Sea. She has accommodation for about eighty boys of from fourteen to sixteen years old.

Several of the Northern European countries have agreements with Captain Gustav Erikson to train their cadets in his ships, but the Polish Government runs the Dar Pomorza for the benefit of the merchant service rather than for the Navy. She now has an auxiliary engine. The vessel was built as the Prinzess Eitel Friedrich in Hamburg in 1909 and has a gross tonnage of 1,620. Some time after the war of 1914-18 the British four-masted barque Lauriston, a vessel of 2,472 tons gross, built in 1892, was bought by Anglo-Russian interests for the purpose of supplying Russia with Scottish herrings. She was later nationalized with the rest of the Russian Merchant Service, renamed Tovarisch and used for training purposes, carrying cadets for both Navy and Merchant Service. She has been laid up for some time and it is uncertain whether she will be used again. The Soviet merchant service has an elaborate training system in its trading vessels, linked up with a system of technical schools on shore.

Belgian Training Ships

In Belgium, sail training is carried out under the control of the Government by a smart three-masted auxiliary schooner, square-rigged on the fore, named Mercator, and built at Leith in 1932. Her displacement is 1,050 tons, and she has accommodation for seventy cadets, in addition to her officers and instructors, petty officers, stewards and others. The Belgian scheme was started in 1903 by a private society called the Association Maritime Beige, which soon afterwards acquired the full-rigged ship Comte De Smet De Mayer. In 1906 this ship foundered, with heavy loss of life. Although she was replaced by a second ship of the same name, that vessel remained in harbour while the deep-sea work was carried out by the four-masted barque L’Avenir, sold to the Finnish flag for trading in 1932. The Mercator works in conjunction with a well-equipped nautical school on the banks of the Scheldt just outside Antwerp. As far as the mercantile side is concerned, sail training in Italy is confined to a few small trading ships in the Mediterranean and to the Patria, built in Germany in 1922 as the five-masted schooner Susanne Vinnen. She had a peculiar but workmanlike rig and a submarine diesel for auxiliary power; in 1930 she was sold to the Societa di Navigazione Nazario Sauro and renamed. Since then she has carried a number of cadets on commercial voyages, generally to the River Plate.


THE SWEDISH TRADING SHIP C. B. PEDERSEN was formerly the Italian Emanuele Accame. She was built in 1891, and after an adventurous career now takes part in the annual movement of South Australian grain. Her gross tonnage is 2,142. She is one of the few sailing ships to pass at times through the Panama Canal, since her voyages to and from Australia are sometimes varied to give the cadets whom she carries the widest possible experience.

The Americans have an interesting mercantile training organization. The Navy lends to the governments of the various States suitable material for training young seamen, and the States make their own arrangements. The object is to train citizens of the State free of charge; fees are demanded of outsiders. It has been found that unfortunately a large number of youngsters sign on to see the world and have no intention of following the sea as a profession. For many years the Navy lent the various States sloops dating from the ’sixties and ’seventies. These had auxiliary steam engines, but did the greater part of their cruising under sail.

When these ships first visited Britain, British sailors were full of enthusiasm for them. They pointed out how the young American cadet could gain experience in handling a steamer, which he probably would do for the greater part of his life, while the British apprentice was forced to learn his trade in sail. Latterly the American cadet has been envied for getting much sail experience, while the British apprentice, in default of any sailing ships under the flag, has been forced to content himself with steam. Of recent years the supply of these sloops has been running out and some of the States have already been forced to use full-powered steamers.

But perhaps the most interesting system of mercantile sail training in the world is that of the Japanese, who maintain four magnificent vessels specially built for the purpose. Two of them are new and have been built within the last few years; these are the Nippon Maru and the Kaiwo Maru, with auxiliary diesel power. The other two, the Taisei Maru and the Shintoku Maru are older. The newer ships have a displacement of over 4,000 tons and carry seventeen officers and forty-nine ratings, in addition to 120 cadets. They are fitted with all the latest navigational gear. A student’s life is always a hard one in Japan, and that of the cadets in these ships is no exception. They have to work immensely hard both while they are embarked in the ships and while they are in the equally up-to-date colleges ashore. Training in these ships is free, but it is a difficult matter to get into them, so high is the qualifying standard. Both deck and engineer officers undergo their professional training in these ships, as well as a good deal of military drill.

In naval circles opinion on sail training is as divided as it is in mercantile marine groups. For many years the Royal Navy kept to sail training both for its young officers and for its seamen, and the sight of such old ships as the Volage in the Training Squadron was not easily forgotten. For the boys’ out-of-the-harbour training there were the little brigs, Martin, Liberty, Pilot, Seaflower and Sealark, which were always cruising round the Channel in the summer. The lads learned a high degree of smartness in them. It was when “Jackie” Fisher was introducing his super-scientific training into the Navy that these little ships were swept away.

Some of the other navies, however, believe in sail training. The Swedes have the Af Chapman, built in 1888 as the British trading vessel Dunboyne. Although she is getting near the end of her days she still carries out some long cruises. She is backed by the smaller three-masted ships Najaden and Jarramas, of about 350 tons each, and by the 140-tons brig Falken.

Poland has a little auxiliary three-masted schooner named the Iskra, 560 tons displacement, which was bought in Holland in 1927. Germany has the Gorch Fock, an auxiliary three-masted barque built in 1933 after the German sail training ship Niobe had capsized and foundered in the Baltic. The Finnish Navy has the Suomen Joutsen - translated “The Swan of Finland” - as appropriate a name as could be chosen for such a beautiful ship. She was originally the French Laennec and later the German training ship Oldenburg. She was bought by the Finnish Navy in 1931.

In SALOFT AND FURL IT. This is the order for which cadets wait when they are told off to furl a sailouth America all the principal navies maintained sail training ships at one time. The Brazilians had the Banjamin Constant, now replaced by the Almirante Saldanha, built in England in 1933, a four-masted barquentine which normally cruises under sail but has auxiliary diesel power. The Argentines had the Presidente Sarmiento, a particularly beautiful and lofty rigged ship, which when worn out was replaced by a modem cruiser. The Chileans still have the General Baquedano.

“ALOFT AND FURL IT”. This is the order for which cadets wait when they are told off to furl a sail. As soon as the order is given a race up the rigging begins, as each cadet is eager to reach the place of honour - the outside of the yardarm. Quickness and precision being essential on board ship, all operations such as this are performed on the training ship as drill, and are carried out only on the word of command.

The Portuguese train their youngsters in the Sagres, built as the German trading vessel Rickmer Rickmers in 1896 and converted between 1924 and 1927. The Yugoslav Navy has the Jardan, the building of which was begun in Germany on reparations account and finished against ordinary payments when reparation payments lapsed. The Spanish own the Galatea, an auxiliary barque, built in 1896 as the British Glenlee, and the four-masted schooner Juan Sebastian de Elcano was specially built in 1928 at a Spanish yard from the designs of one of the best-known British yacht architects. The Greek Ares was built in France in 1927; although she has a big spread of nearly 16,000 sq. ft. of canvas, she has auxiliary triple expansion machinery as well.

But by far the most interesting of the naval sail training ships are the Cristoforo Colombo and Amerigo Vespucci, which were built for the Italian Navy in 1928 and 1931 respectively. Although they have the most up-to-date propelling machinery on the diesel-electric principle, affording the youngsters excellent training in the engines that they will have to handle in submarines, they are heavily rigged. With their two lines of ports in broad white bands on their black hulls, they resemble at first sight the 74-or 80-gun ships of Nelson’s day. They are wonderfully designed ships, and in dealing with lads of the most impressionable age it is no disadvantage to give the ships an appearance reminiscent of the most romantic days of naval history.

You can read more on “Auxiliary Sailing Vessels”, “In the Sailing Ship’s Forecastle” and

“The Last of the Giants” on this website.