The Legendary Preussen and France II
27th May 2015
The Star Clipper tall sailing ships of today are based on vessels of legendary statuses. Royal Clipper, which launched in 2000, was based on a ship built in 1902 known as Preussen. Additionally, Star Clippers’ new vessel (set to launch in 2017) will be based on a ship with an even higher legendary status: France II. This week, Star Clippers takes a closer look at these historic vessels and the similarities they share with their modern counterparts.
Pronounced “proy-sin,” Preussen was previously the only five-masted full rigged ever built. The vessel was launched in 1902, following a christening, and sailed from Bremerhaven on the same day to Iquique, Chile.
Prior to the launch of Preussen, it is thought that Carl H Laeisz, captain on board the five-masted Potosi, was approached by Kaiser Wilhelm II in 1899. It is believed that Carl H Laeisz was asked when the five-masted full rigged ship would be built and this inspired Laeisz to build the ship.
Whilst sailing the seas of the world, the five-masted, fully rigged Preussen was able to weather any storm and even tackle force 9 winds. It is believed that during such conditions, eight men had to hold the six and a half foot-tall steering wheel.
Preussen’s unique beauty, elegance and excellent sailing characteristics led to people calling the vessel the “Queen of the Queens of the Seas”. The vessel completed 12 round trips from Hamburg to Chile and back again, as well as one journey around the world via New York and Yokohama, Japan.
Sadly, whilst sailing her 14th outbound voyage on 5 November 1910, Preussen met her fate. She was carrying a number of pianos set for Chile before being rammed by a small, British cross-channel steamer named Brighton, eight nautical miles south of Newhaven.
Efforts were made to save Preussen after Brighton returned to Newhaven to summon aid, but the weather conditions were treacherous. Despite attempts to tug the ship to safety in Dover Harbour, the anchor chains broke under pressure from a November gale.
Eventually, the ship was driven onto the rocks at Crab Bay and sank as a result of the inflicted damage. The ship was deemed unsalvageable. During low spring tides, a few ribs of the Preussen can still be seen off Crab Bay today.
A French sailing ship, as can probably be gathered from the name; France II was the second largest commercial sailing ship ever built. Measuring 5,633 GRT, it is larger than its German counterpart but equal in terms of length at 480.5ft.
Built in 1911, 9 years after the construction of Preussen, France II boasted many unique features. She had a jubilee rig, otherwise known as a “bald-headed rig,” meaning she was rigged with no royal sails above double top sails and double topgallant sails. See our guide on tall-ship rigging.
France II was one of the most elegant sailing cargo carriers, offering passengers luxury accommodation alongside the standard on board storage capacity. The ship featured seven luxury passenger cabins, a library, a darkroom and even seawater therapy treatment.
She was the largest sailing ship ever built around the time of construction and was destined for the nickel ore trade. Her crew consisted of: captain; second captain; a naval officer (vice-captain); first, second and third mates; and 40 seamen, which increased to 45 in 1919.
Sadly, the glorious years of France II were short-lived and, in 1922, she went aground on the Teremba reef, near New Caledonia in the Caribbean. She was salvageable but, due to fallen cargo rates, her owner decided against paying her tow fee. Additionally, what was left of the ship was completely demolished after American bombers used the wreckage for target practice in 1944.
Luckily, Star Clippers have recreated and are looking to recreate the tall ships of a bygone era, with all the modern-day safety and environmental editions. The largest ship in the fleet, Royal Clipper, is based on Preussen; whilst it was also recently announced that Star Clippers would be building a new tall ship based on France II.
In the 21st century, it is possible to cruise a classic style sailing ship and experience the beauty and elegance of the seas of the world. Whether you want to visit the Western or Eastern Mediterranean or the Caribbean, Star Clippers can take you there and deliver an experience you will never forget.