12 Famous Sail Ships

Sail Ships are vessels with sails mounted on masts that channel wind power, propelling the vessel forward. The earliest sailing ships were used on rivers and coasts in Ancient Egypt and the Mediterranean.

European sailing ships had square rigs and became common during the Age of Discovery from the 15th to the 17th centuries when European explorers chartered unexplored lands.

During this time, multi-masted ships became prevalent. They operated using navigational instruments such as the magnetic compass and studied the position of the sun and stars. The 18th and 19th centuries saw the peak of the Age of Sail, with massive, heavily armed battleships and merchant sailing vessels.

By the 1880s, vessels with steam engines came to the forefront and competed with sailships on all prominent trade routes, given that they utilised fuel and had scheduled sailings that were not dependent on wind conditions. However, commercial sailships still operated well into the 20th century, although their numbers were reduced and limited to a few trades.

Now that we know about sailships let us look at 12 famous ones worldwide.

1. SS Great Eastern

When launched in 1858, SS Great Eastern was the world’s largest ship. It caught people’s attention because it boasted five funnels and the biggest set of paddle wheels.

This sail-powered steamship was said to be a prototype of a modern ocean liner. SS Great Eastern could attain a speed of 14.5 knots and had 2 paddle engines, a screw engine and sails on 6 masts.

She was constructed in London by John Scott Russell & Co. and designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel for the Eastern Navigation Company. She could travel with 4000 people from England to Australia without stopping to refuel.

SS Great Eastern
Image Credits: Wikipedia

SS Great Eastern was 211 m long and 25 m wide. She had 4 decks, 20 lifeboats and displaced 32,160 tonnes. During her first voyage, she suffered from an explosion and after necessary repairs, she worked as a passenger liner between the UK and North America.

Her cargo holds were never utilised to their maximum capacity. After years of deficit operations, she was transformed into a cable-laying vessel, which laid the first transatlantic telegraph cable in 1866. She was ultimately broken up in 1889.

2. MSY Wind Surf

This 5-mast staysail schooner is among the world’s biggest sailing cruise ships. She was launched in 1989 as La Fayette in France and later renamed Club Med 1 in 1990, the same year she embarked on her first voyage.

She operated for Club Med for 8 years, and in 1998, she was sold to Windstar Cruises, which changed her name to Wind Surf.

MSY Wind Surf
Image Credits: Didier Descouens/wikipedia

She can accommodate 342 guests in 150 staterooms, offering beautiful ocean views. She has 18 suites, two deluxe bridge suites, and a 210-member crew.

She is 187 m long, 20 m wide and 80 m high with a 5.09 m draught. Wind Surf has 8 decks and computer-operated sails on five masts. She also has 4 diesel-electric engines and 2 electric motors, which help her attain a speed of 12 knots, and she can go up to 15 knots with wind assistance.

3. Viking

This 4-masted steel barque is considered the largest sailing vessel ever constructed in Scandinavia.
It was a sail training vessel for the Danish Merchant Fleet, designed with seaworthiness and cargo capacity in mind.

It carried wheat, cement, coal, timber, stone salt, soya beans etc. She was built in 1906 in Copenhagen, Denmark and achieved a record speed of 15.5 knots while carrying wheat from Australia in 1909.

She participated in many Great Grain Races from South Australia and Port Victoria and even won in 1948. In the 1940s, she was about to be scrapped, but the Swedish Government saved her from this tragic fate.

Viking
Image Credits: Wikipedia

Viking came to rest in Gothenburg, Sweden, in 1950, where she was converted into a home for shipping organisations and became a seamanship school.

Presently, she has been transformed into a hotel called Barken Viking, which is owned by ESS Hotell AB. In 2021, she was demasted so she could cross under Alvsborgsbron.

4. Pallada

Said to be the world’s fastest sailing ship, Pallada was launched in 1989 and became famous after her round-the-world cruise on the occasion of the 270th anniversary of Russia’s colonisation of Alaska and the 50th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin’s Space Flight.

Pallada

She was designed by a Polish Naval Architect, Zygmunt Choren. This 108.6 m long 3-masted frigate holds a world speed record of 18.7 knots, and although it is said she attained 18.8 knots during her 2007-2008 circumnavigation, this record is not recognised officially.

This full-rigged ship is 22.85 m high, and its hull is 42.02 m long. She can carry 100 trainees and has a 50-member permanent crew. Pallaga reached Kodiak, Alaska, in 2011 and was welcomed by hundreds on the waterfront.

5. Kobenhavn

This Danish-owned vessel was used for sea training of new naval cadets and functioned as a naval ship. It was a 5-masted barque constructed by Ramage & Ferguson, Leith for the Danish East Asiatic Company in 1921.

Known as the ‘Big Dane’, it was the largest sailing ship in the world at that time, measuring 131.9 m lengthwise and 14.9 m breadthwise. It was 48.6 m high and 8.7 m deep and could accommodate 26 crew members and 45 cadets.

Kobenhavn
Representation Image

Kobenhavn disappeared under mysterious circumstances in December 1928 when she was on her way to Australia from Buenos Aires. Even after a long search and rescue effort, neither the vessel nor anyone onboard her last voyage could be found. What happened to the ship and its crew remains a mystery.

Some say that it struck an iceberg at night or in fog and sank quickly, killing everyone onboard. Others believe the ship in ballast without any cargo might have been capsized by strong winds before anyone could make it out alive.

6. Great Republic

Famous as the biggest full-rigged vessel ever built in the U.S., Great Republic was also the world’s largest wooden ship when it was launched in 1853.

Shipbuilder and naval architect Donald McKay designed her as a 4-masted clipper barque to be the most profitable vessel to engage in Southern Oceans Merchant trade and benefit from the Australian Gold Rush.

Great Republic
Representation Image

She was massive, with an LOA of 122 m and a beam of 16 m. She was 75 m tall and had a 7.6 m draught. During a loading operation for her first commercial voyage, she suffered a terrible fire which damaged her, and McKay abandoned the wreck to his insurers, who sold the hull to its new owners.

She was rebuilt with three decks instead of the original four and sailed on the Trans-Atlantic and California routes. Even after reconstruction, she was huge and could not access several ports when loaded completely.

Hence, she was partially unloaded into lighters so she could enter the locked basins to unload her cargo. She sank in a storm off Bermuda on March 5, 1872.

7. France II

This French sailing ship was launched in 1912. She was built as a 5-masted steel barque with the biggest cargo-carrying capacity.

She was made for the nickel ore trade and had a five-member crew.

Her LOA was 146.5 m, and she was 16.96 m broad. She was 64.5 m high with an 8.5 m draft. France II had 38 sails and boasted a lounge with piano, 7 first-class passenger cabins, a library, a darkroom and seawater therapy equipment.

France II
Representation Image

Her furnishings and decks were made of the finest wood with intricate carvings. She had three decks and a long poop deck like on sail training ships.

In 1922, she carried chrome ore and ran aground on Teremba Reef near Noumea. Due to the falling cargo rate, her owner abandoned her instead of towing her.

8. Khersones

Also called Chersones, this Crimean vessel was built as a three-mast, full-rigged ship in 1989 in Poland after the designs of famous naval architect Zygmunt Choren. It is named after Chersonesus City, an archaeological site close to Sevastopol.

She participated in several regattas and, in 1997, became the first Ukrainian vessel to sail around the Cape of Horn using only her sails.

Khersones
Representation Image

Khersones had a remarkable career as a training ship for a Maritime University in Kerch, Crimea, from 1991 to 2006 and then as a cruise ship rented to Inmaris Maritime Service.

After Russia occupied Crimea in 2014, Moscow confiscated it. In 2015, Khersones went to the Sevastopol shipyard for repair and maintenance and remained there while the Crimean Bridge was built near Kerch.

9. Amerigo Vespucci

This Italian Navy vessel was launched in 1931 and was designed to look like an early 19th-century wooden warship. However, its hull was made of steel riveted places, and its 24 canvas sails covered a total surface area of 2600 m2.

The ship’s LOA was 101 m, and its maximum draught was 7.30 m. She had an auxiliary engine, two diesel generators and a propellor, which allowed her to attain a speed of 10 knots. She carried 11 boats, 4 of which had sails and oars and were used by cadets for their training.

Amerigo Vespucci
Image Credits: wikipedia

 

The ship had a permanent crew of 270 and 150 cadets. She embarked on training campaigns and showed the flag to support national diplomacy.

From 1931 to 2005, she made several short cruise trips near Italy and participated in 71 training campaigns in the Mediterranean Sea, Atlantic Ocean, and Northern Europe. Amerigo Vespucci spent many months in New Zealand during the America’s Cup while on a tour to sail across the world in 2002 and 2003.

10. Baron of Renfrew

This 4-masted Barque was one of the biggest wooden ships ever constructed. Though she was a disposable vessel meant for a one-way trip to transport timber from the New World to England, she couldn’t complete a single trip before being broken up.

This 93-meter-long ship, built in 1825 by Charles Wood in Canada, was 19 meters wide and had a 10-meter draught. The Baron of Renfrew could accommodate 25 crew members.

Baron of Renfrew
Image Credits: wikipedia

After changes were made in the timber tax census, timber ships lost tax benefits, and they were no longer constructed. The Baron of Renfrew was bigger than the Colombus ship, constructed a year before, although both were disposable vessels.

11. USS Constitution

Also called Old Ironsides, this 3-masted frigate was a part of the US Navy and is the oldest commissioned naval warship still afloat.

She was built in Boston, Massachusetts, and launched in 1797. She was bigger and more heavily armed than the frigates of that time. Her first task was protecting American ships in the Quasi-War with France and defeating the Barbary Pirates.

USS Constitution
Image Credits: wikipedia

She also played a significant role during the War of 1812 against the U.K. Her victories earned her admiration from the people and saved her from being scrapped on several occasions. She continued to be the flagship of African and Mediterranean squadrons and fulfilled the role of a training ship for the US Naval Academy.

Today, Constitution is docked at Pier 1 of the earlier Charlestown Navy Yard at one end of Boston’s Freedom Trail. She is open to the public all year round, and her 75 crew members and sailors participate in many ceremonies and educational events.

12. Archibald Russell

Constructed in 1905, this 4-masted barque was quite a tall vessel known for its magnificent superstructure.

Scotts Shipbuilding & Engineering Company designed and built it. She flaunted the royal sails and had a tonnage of 2354 GRT. She was 88.8 m long and 13 m wide with a 7.3 m depth.

It sailed worldwide to deliver timber, coal, grains, and nitrate to several British, Spanish, Australian, and Brazilian ports.

Archibald Russell
Image Credits: wikipedia

Gustaf Erikson bought the vessel in 1923. He was known for his windjammers’ fleet and operated this vessel until the Second World War broke out in 1939.

In 1941, Britain confiscated this ship. After Finland sided with Germany in the war, the vessel was used to store goods. After the war ended, the ship was finally broken up in 1949.

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The information contained in this website is for general information purposes only. While we endeavour to keep the information up to date and correct, we make no representations or warranties of any kind, express or implied, about the completeness, accuracy, reliability, suitability or availability with respect to the website or the information, products, services, or related graphics contained on the website for any purpose. Any reliance you place on such information is therefore strictly at your own risk.

In no event will we be liable for any loss or damage including without limitation, indirect or consequential loss or damage, or any loss or damage whatsoever arising from loss of data or profits arising out of, or in connection with, the use of this website.

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Zahra is an alumna of Miranda House, University of Delhi. She is an avid writer, possessing immaculate research and editing skills. Author of several academic papers, she has also worked as a freelance writer, producing many technical, creative and marketing pieces. A true aesthete at heart, she loves books a little more than anything else.

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