Wednesday, October 15, 2008

"I Saw Three Ships . . ."

Given Hamburg’s long maritime history, it is not surprising that Hamburg serves as home to three great historic ships turned into museums.

All three vessels are docked on The River Elbe. Each ship is as long as a football field, and each ship may be toured in depth, bow to stern, and to the bottom-most deck. We devoted an entire day to visiting all three ships, and we very much enjoyed exploring these magnificent specimens of Europe’s seafaring history. We found these ships to be completely fascinating.

The first ship we visited, and the oldest, was the Rickmer Rickmers, a clipper ship built in 1896 by the Rickmers shipyard in Bremerhaven. The Rickmer Rickmers was turned into a maritime museum in 1987, and has been docked in Hamburg Harbor ever since. A permanent exhibition on board recounts the majesty and toil of the sailing ship era.

Created as a full-rigged ship with a steel hull, the Rickmer Rickmers is one of the last remaining tall ship freighters in the world. The ship was first used on the Hong Kong route, bringing rice and bamboo to Hamburg. In 1912, the ship was transferred to the Hamburg-Chile route.

The ship has two engines: one is an old steam engine and one is an old diesel engine. Accordingly, the ship may be powered by wind, steam or fuel. Its length is 97 meters, its width is 12 meters and its salt-water depth is 6 meters. Fully rigged, its sails occupy 3,500 square meters. Its normal crew complement was 22 merchant sailors.

The ship was illegally confiscated by the Portuguese in World War I (Germany was not at war with Portugal) and turned over to the British. The British used the ship for transporting war materials for the remainder of the war. After the war, the British presented the ship to the Portuguese Navy as “war reparations”.

The Portuguese used the Rickmer Rickmers as a cadet training ship until 1962, from which year the ship was used as a naval storage hulk in Lisbon. In 1958, the last major appearance of the ship, it won the “Cutty Sark” tall ship race.

The ship’s current name was only adopted in 1983, after it was purchased by The City Of Hamburg from the Portuguese Navy.

The elegant Cap San Diego is one of the last of the classic cargo ships. During its active sailing days, it was known as “The White Swan Of The South Atlantic”.

Launched in 1961 at the Hamburg shipyards, the Cap San Diego was the last in a series of six brand-new bulk cargo ships. The ships of the “Cap San” class marked the beginning of an era of fast cargo vessels, equipped with capacious cold storage rooms and facilities for 12 overseas passengers. With their sleek hulls and massive sterns, the ships of the “Cap San” class resembled elegant yachts more than heavy freighters. Each ship of the “Cap San” class had a loading capacity of 103,000 tons.

From 1962 to 1982, the Cap San Diego completed more than 120 round trips between Hamburg and South America. At the time, a Cap San ship departed from Hamburg en route to South America every single week.

The demise of bulk cargo ships was due to the inexorable rise of standard shipping containers, which left in their wake less and less business for conventional bulk freighters. The Cap San Diego is the last remaining vessel of the “Cap San” class.

The City Of Hamburg purchased the Cap San Diego in 1986, when it was on the verge of being sold for scrap. Completely overhauled and de-rusted, the ship is still seaworthy—it is fully functional and able to be oceangoing at any time.

U-434, a Russian submarine of the “Tango” Class from the final decades of the Cold War, is one of the largest non-nuclear submarines in the world. It is one of the few remaining “Tango” Class submarines anywhere.

Constructed in only eight months at the Krasnoe Sormovo submarine base in Gorky, U-434 was launched in 1976 and placed into the service of the Soviet North Sea Fleet. It was deployed on espionage missions, and remained an active part of the Russian fleet until 2002.

U-434 possesses a special coating, invisible to radar, allowing it to engage in espionage, reconnaissance, hunting and patrol. The vessel is 92 meters long, 9 meters wide and 15 meters high.

U-434 has three diesel engines, three electric engines and one creeping engine. The diesel and electric engines have 18,000 horsepower. It has a diving depth of 500 meters. Its surface speed is 13 kilometers per hour; its submerged speed is 16 kilometers per hour.

The submarine is still functional. All engines and all on-board equipment were left in place when the submarine was sold to a private consortium in Hamburg, although all weapon systems were, to be sure, dismantled in Murmansk prior to U-434’s arrival in Hamburg.

The submarine carried 24 torpedoes, each 8.14 meters long and each weighing two tons. The torpedo room—288 cubic meters—is the largest room on board the submarine.

The submarine carried supplies for 80 days of maneuvers: 18 tons of foodstuff and 32,000 liters of fresh water. An emergency operating room was on board. The submarine had a complement of 84 personnel: 16 officers, 16 petty officers and 52 sailors.

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