The Romantic Age of Sail

By Allan Jackson - 2004

From 1852 when the first steamship, the Robert Peel, called in Durban, the number of sailing ships visiting the port began to decline. By the 1930s they were rare sights in the Port of Durban but, still, there have been a number over the years.


In his book In Deep and Troubled Waters my informant Tony Large remembers the visit to Durban in the mid-1930s of the sailing ship Olivebank due to the fact that his first cousin, Arthur Large, was one of her crew.


Modwena was based in Durban for a number of years and has her own page here.


Lawhill was a four-masted steel barque built in 1892 by W.B. Thompson & Co., Dundee. She was sold in 1899 together with her sister Jutepolis for £39000 and, two years later, had a narrow escape when her ballast shifted during a typhoon and she was nearly lost.


I believe that this picture was taken as the ship approached Durban.


<== Click the picture to view an enlargement.


She was confiscated by the South African Government as a prize of war on 22 September 1942 having been arrested on 21 August 1941 during a visit to Port Elizabeth. She apparently visited Durban many times during her career which lasted until she was laid up at Lourenço Marques [now Maputo] in 1948 and broken up in 1959.

See http://www.Nautica/Ships/Fourmast_ships/Lawhill(1892).html for more details about the Lawhill.


The Tango was a four-masted barque which was built in 1904 by William Hamilton & Co. in Port Glasgow, Scotland and originally called the Hans. The Hans was later renamed the Mary Dollar and then Tango before spending a couple of years as a gambling ship anchored beyond the three mile limit off Redondo beach in California.

Tango was then re-rigged as a six-masted schooner to carry American lumber to South Africa for use in the mines after the beginning of World War II. She sailed from St. Helen's in Oregon on 29 April loaded with over three million board feet of Douglas Fir. She arrived in Durban on 7 December 1942 and sat at the dock for six months before being loaded with a cargo of coal for South America.

Picture courtesy Larry Barber via Peter Marsh


This picture of the Tango was taken as she passed Astoria, where she picked-up a pilot soon after she began her voyage to Durban in 1942.


<== Click the picture to view an enlargement.


She was damaged by a tug on the day of departure and there were delays while she was repaired. She eventually set off again but encountered bad weather made her sails start to disintegrate which forced her to return to Durban. The ship was then loaded with coal and set out for Lourenço Marques but, on the way, the cargo caught fire and she only just managed to reach her destination.

Much of the coal was offloaded but failed to find a buyer and was therefore given away. After a year Tango was renamed Cidade do Porto, loaded again with coal, and set out in mid-1945 for Portugal. The voyage, her last, was apparently a nightmare and she eventually arrived in Portugal under tow having stopped-off once more in Durban. The Cidade do Porto was eventually broken up in 1948 but her sister ship Moshulu is still afloat in Philadelphia and serving as a restaurant.

See for more details about the Tango.


Danmark is a steel three-masted ship which was built in 1933 and is owned by the Danish Marine Authority who use her as a floating school for training young apprentice seamen and as a roving ambassador for Denmark. The ship was visiting the USA at the outbreak of WWII and was handed over to the US authorities until the end of the war. Danmark visited Durban shortly after this, in 1948 perhaps, and there's every hope she'll call again seeing as she's still afloat.


The Danmark leaves the Port of Durban.


<== Click the picture to view a wallpaper-sized enlargement (1024x768px).



Many unusual vessels have have called in Durban over the years but there can be few more unusual than the Borobudur which arrived in Durban on 1 December 2003. She is a modern replica of an 8th century Indonesian outrigger sailing ship and is on a mission to highlight the trade links between Indonesia and Africa by retracing the Cinnamon Route along which Indonesian traders travelled to and from Africa on their trading voyages.



<== Click the picture to view a wallpaper-sized enlargement (1024x768px).


The Borobudur arrived with a little bit of help from the National Sea Rescue Institute which provided a tow for the last section of the journey from Richards Bay. The vessel is 15m long and was built using traditional methods based on a design shown in carvings in the Borobudur Temple in Indonesia.

It is not known whether any of these vessels visited Durban in the dim and distant past but it seems very likely that they would have used the bay for shelter and that they would have taken the opportunity of filling their water tanks and perhaps hunting for game.

See for more details.

STS Khersones

This beautiful vessel arrived in Durban on 28 February and stayed for a few days. She was built in Gdansk in 1989 and is currently a training ship for the Academy of Navigation in Odessa and also has accomodation for 62 passengers who can elect either to help in the running of the ship or to relax and do nothing.

<== Click for an enlargement of the picture.

The STS Khersones is 108 metres long, 14 metres wide, has a draft of 6,80 metres and a mast which is 51,5 metres high. She can carry 26 sails with a total surface area 2270 m2 and can average a speed of 16 knots under good conditions.


This wonderful picture of the sailing ship Pogoria was contributed by Derek Walker who was given the original transparency.

<== Click for an enlargement of the picture.

The picture is undated but the vessel did visit Durban in 1983/84 and in 1985. She was in built in Gdansk during 1979-1980 for a sail training organisation going under the evocatively named Iron Shackle Fraternity. She apparently still operates as a training vessel out of Genoa and takes regular part in Tall Ships races.

More information here.


Picture courtesy Rolfe Matthews.
Click to view enlargement.

I appealed for information about the sailing ship Pommern on Page 27 of the diary and my informant John Taylor replied as follows:

The name of the 4 masted barque is Pommern (meaning Pomerania), and she is still afloat today as a museum ship in Mariehamn, Finland. She was built in Glasgow in 1903 for the Hamburg based German shipping company F. Laeisz, and was one of the “flying P-liners” (the names of all their ships began with the letter “p”) used in the South American nitrate trade. Between WW1 and WW2 the Pommern belonged to Gustaf Erikson, and transported grain from Australia to England and Ireland. My guess is that she was in Durban en route to or from Australia, during the late 1920’s.


The list of vessels quoted above is far from complete and I would, as usual, welcome
hearing more about these or others.


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