The Flagship’s Origins
When reflecting on the period of maritime history often referred to as the ‘Age of Sail’, the significance of four-masted barque Herzogin Cecilie is difficult to ignore. Named after German Crown Princess Duchess Cecilie of Mecklenburg-Schwerin, the canonised windjammer is widely considered one of the greatest and potentially fastest tall-ships of all time.
In 1902, Herzogin Cecilie was commissioned by the North German Lloyd to be utilised as a training ship for young German cadets, and was constructed by the Bremerhaven based Rickmers Yard. Made entirely of steel and endowed with a cargo capacity of over 4000 tons, the vessel was well-equipped for the Trans-Atlantic voyages that awaited her.
The esteemed tall-ship embarked upon many creditable routes, carrying German manufactured goods outward and returning with grain or nitrates from South America, San Francisco and Australia. 1914 saw the out-break of the first World War, temporarily respiting Herzogin Cecilie’s routine expeditions. After Armistice in 1918, the barque was allotted to France, but was quickly discarded due to an excess of sailing ships under their command.
Joining The Åland Fleet
It was during this time that Aaland-native master mariner Gustaf Erikson had begun to amalgamate what would later be the largest fleet of sailing ships in existence. A chance encounter with Herzogin Cecilie at Ostend in 1920 led Erikson’s commodore master, Captain de Cloux, to purchase the vessel for £4250.
In adherence with its original purpose, Gustaf put the barque to good use, providing training to Finnish, Swedish, Norwegian, Estonian, German and British seamen. The summer of 1922 saw Herzogin Cecilie undertake her first of many charters under the Finnish flag, in which she carried timber from Fredrickstad to Melbourne.
Prior to Erikson’s ownership, Herzogin Cecilie was already well-known for her unassailable pace. Clocking speeds of up to 21 knots, the barque was able to maintain a promising track record and boasted four annual grain race wins before 1921. Under Erikson’s command, the windjammer snatched the victory a further four times, and thus holds the most grain race wins of all time.
A Tragic Demise
However, Herzogin Cecilie’s seemingly unbeatable run came to an abrupt halt on April 25th 1936. After voyaging from Port Lincoln in Southern Australia, as it neared its final destination the ship descended upon dense fog and ran aground on Ham Stone Rock. The movie below, with footage shows the wrecked barque as it drifted onto the Bolt Head cliffs of South Devon, where it ultimately met its ruin.
Watch the movie below
Though the majority of the ship was unsalvageable, Herzogin Cecilie’s legacy lives on through the small number of artefacts that were able to be recovered from the wreckage. A selection of items from the ship are on display at the family home of Sven Erikson in Lemland, but perhaps the most impressive memoriam is the expertly restored captain’s saloon, open for viewing at the Aaland Maritime Museum.