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How did the "wind squeezers" - the largest sailing ships in history appear and why did they disappear?
How did the "wind squeezers" - the largest sailing ships in history appear and why did they disappear?

At the end of the era of sailing ships, when steam engines began to supplant the driving force of the wind, the windjammers, the most lifting of them, became the last loud chord of the era of sailing ships. Real "wind squeezers". These titans under sail set speed records for the delivery of gunpowder components to Europe, which was involved in the First World War. Only in order to subsequently be destroyed by this war.

The latest competitors of steamers

In 1869, an event happened that can be called the beginning of a new era of trade relations between continents - the opening of the Suez Canal. The water corridor that connected the Mediterranean and Red Seas halved one of the main trade routes of the time. Now the journey from Indian Bombay to British London could be done by steamer in just two weeks.

Discovery of the Suez Canal, drawing 1869

The owners of the sailing cargo ships suffered huge losses. Now that the new route had a whole network of ports in which steamers could be repaired and reloaded with their fuel - coal, sailboats could not continue to compete with them in the speed of delivery of goods. However, the ships still had one trump card under sail. Offshore, the transatlantic ocean trade routes were still dominated by huge sailboats, the Windjammers.

Dinosaurs in the shadow of the sails

The Windjammers were true ocean cargo titans. A strong body up to one and a half hundred meters long made of metal riveted sheets was crowned with 4 to 7 steel masts. The weight of each windjammer yoke ranged from 3.5 to 5 tons, and the steel rigging ropes were twisted by steam engines. In order to unfold the sails, each of which weighed almost half a ton, in the wind, hand winches were used on the windjammers.

Schooner Thomas U. Lousson was the only 7-masted sailing vessel in history

The largest of these monsters could place up to 4 thousand tons of cargo in their holds. At the same time, in the ocean expanses, such a sailboat easily accelerated to 14-17 knots (27-32 kilometers per hour). These indicators made the Windjammers the most cost-effective cargo ships of the time. Especially when it comes to transoceanic cargo transportation.

The benefit generated demand, and demand, in turn, forced the global shipbuilding industry to rapidly build large cargo ships. In just a little more than half a century, more than 3, 5 thousand "wind squeezers" have been launched in the world. The largest shipyards that built sailing titans were the German Teklenborg in Gestemuende (Bremen) and Blom und Foss in Hamburg.

Five-masted barque Potosi, 1924

Most of the Windjammers flew under American, British, German, Italian, Norwegian and French flags. If we talk about private fleets, consisting of these sailing monsters, then the undisputed world leader was the Swedish entrepreneur Gustav Erikson. The headquarters of his flotilla, which consisted of more than 40 windjammers, was located in Mariehamn, the main city of the Aland Islands.

From luxury goods to bird guano

In the race of profitability between cargo sailboats and steamers, the owners of the wind squeezers were ready for any saving methods. Sometimes it even concerned the quantity and quality of the crew of the sailing ship itself.Almost everyone was included in the reduced to a minimum team: from young sailors for future experience and recommendations, to simple travel companions and romantics for food and a free transoceanic voyage.

The largest 5-masted windjammer, The Preussen, had 47 sails

Naturally, such saving measures led to the fact that for each sailor there were 2 times more sails than on an ordinary ship. In addition, team members without experience worked ineptly with rigging devices and very often died right on the deck. However, for windjammer owners, this was nothing compared to the profits that were just going through the roof.

As for the cargo, they were very diverse. Spices and tea, rice and exotic fruits, non-ferrous and precious metals were brought from India and China. Wheat and wool were transported from Australia to Europe in the holds of the Windjammers. Quite often, the "wind squeezers" transported objects of human luxury - antique furniture and musical instruments. Their owners believed that the vibration of the machines and mechanisms of the steamer could damage such a valuable cargo.

Windjammer John Ihn towed through the Panama Canal, 1920

One of the main routes for the Windjammers was the oceanic route to the shores of Chile. Here the holds of sailing ships were filled to the brim with saltpeter and bird guano - components for the production of gunpowder and explosives. Almost constantly belligerent Europe was in dire need of such nitrogenous raw materials. It is not for nothing that at one time the Windjammers among the people came up with a rather accurate sarcastic nickname - Nitrate Fleet ("nitrate fleet").

Windjammer assassins

Gradually, the saltpeter mines in Chile were depleted, which hit the Windjammer fleets very painfully. But then for the "wind squeezers" everything became even worse. World War I began and many giant sailing ships were captured as trophies. More than 80 Windjammers sank German submarines. For submariners, the mountain of sails on the horizon was already a very attractive target.

Submarine from the First World War

The record holder for the sinking of "sailing colossi" was the submarine "Kaiserlichmarine" - German Navy, No. 11-51. This submarine sent 12 British and French cargo sailing ships to the bottom. For such "performance" the submarine received the unspoken title of Windjammer-Killer, or "killer of windjammers."

The same Germans used "wind squeezers" as warships. In 1917 the sailing raider "Kaiserlichmarine" Seeadler was disguised as a timber carrier and sent to a secret battle raid. Having covered almost 27 thousand nautical miles (about 50 thousand km), the German "timber carrier", having rounded the British patrol ships, approached the Entente trade caravan.

German sailing raider Seeadler ("Orlan"), 1916

German sailors immediately threw a load of timber into the water and promptly placed the guns hidden in the holds on the deck. Having opened fire, the Germans, before approaching the scene of the British military convoy, managed to sink 12 Allied merchant ships and safely escape from their pursuers.

True, a few hours later Seeadler stumbled upon reefs and sank. However, the very idea of ​​such a military operation involving a sailing ship at a time when they were already fighting on steel cruisers and battleships is striking in its creativity and audacity.

Steam and oil conquered the wind

The technical revolution, as well as the two World Wars, dealt a colossal blow to the once irreplaceable cargo sailing titans. Although it is worth noting that attempts to resume regular flights of "Windjammers" were made up to 1957. The final line under all these plans was drawn by the death of the German training sailing ship Pamir, caught in the hurricane "Curry" near the Azores. Out of 86 crew members and cadets, only 6 people were saved.

The death of the German training barque Pamir

Currently, almost all of the remaining windjammers are at perpetual anchorages. However, they still serve people in one way or another. So, the Viking sailing ship, moored in Gothenburg, acts as a practical training tool for Swedish naval cadets, the Passat bark in German Travemunde is a museum, and the largest surviving 4-masted windjammer Moshulu serves as a floating 5-star restaurant in the Bay of Philadelphia.

Russian sailing ships "Kruzinshtern" and "Sedov"

And only 2 "wind squeezers" still regularly go out to sea. Both of these sailboats, Kruzinshtern and Sedov, belong to the Russian Federation. On board the last windjammers, cadets of the merchant fleet make training voyages. Also sailboats take part in various regattas and even round the world voyages.

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