Warship Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2017: The big Hawaiian Swede
Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1859-1946 time period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places. – Christopher Eger.
Warship Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2017: The big Hawaiian Swede
Here we see the mighty four-masted barque, Abraham Rydberg, a Swedish cargo carrying schoolship (skolskeppet) that trained sailors and officers, as she approached New York in 1940. She managed to survive both World Wars and the end of her era of sea trade while putting in a lot of honest work.
Laid down for the merchant service in the heyday of the fast transcontinental clipper ships, she was ordered in 1892 from the Clyde firm of Charles Connell & Company, Glasgow (Yard #184) by the Hawaiian Construction Co. of San Francisco.
At some 2,400-tons, the big 270-foot four-master was built to run cargo on the cheap and she entered service as the Hawaiian-flagged Hawaiian Isles, operating out of Honolulu on the sugar trade, later inherited by the Planters Line by 1900, which added her to the U.S registry– one of just 24 Hawaiian-flagged vessels to which this was done.
The Matson Navigation Company of San Francisco bought her from Planters in 1906 and used her on a South American run for several years until she was sold once again to the Alaska Packers’ Association for $60,000 in 1910, a stalwart of the West Coast lumber trade alternating between running “100 or more Chinese and Mexican cannery workers to the fishing grounds in the spring and bringing them back in the fall, together with a hold full of canned salmon.”
That California-based company changed her significantly, reduced the rig and leaving her baldheaded as they elongated the poop over 30-feet to better accommodate the severe weather of the Northern Pacific. Sailing as Star of Greenland under the command of one Captain P.H. Peterson, she was a regular along the Pacific Northwest and in the frozen territory for 15 years until laid up at Alameda in 1926, managing to escape German raiders during the Great War (remember the raider Seeadler was active at the time and captured three American-flagged schooners in June-July in the Southeast Pacific, and the raider Wolf had poked her nose into the West Pac).
Her speed likely had her in good graces– she once made the 2,400-mile Unalaska to Golden Gate run for the Packers in just 7 days– a feat that took most of the other slow craft in the business 35 or more.
After three years of hard luck layup on the West Coast, the aging barque was acquired by the Rydbergska Stiftelsen organization from Sweden for a song ($19,000) and, carrying a full new triangular canvas set, made London in 134 days with a cargo of grain and a scratch crew. A number of changes were implemented in the vessel, including construction of a midships bridge deck and adding classroom spaces for up to 70 cadets– which were required by Swedish law to take a full-year of courses before gaining a certificate as a merchant seaman.
Founded in 1850 by an endowment left by Swedish shipping magnate Abraham Rydberg, the maritime school trained youth in practical sailing, in large part by taking them on lengthy cargo hauls from the Baltic to Australia and the Caribbean. Ages of the trainees, which came in many instances from all over Europe, ran from 14-20 and the Rydbergska foundation produced thousands of sailors for the Swedish merchant and naval forces over the course of a century.
Purchased in 1930, the Hawaiian Isles/Star of Greenland became the institute’s third Abraham Rydberg under a Swedish flag, undertaking yearly training excursions on the wheat trade to Australia alongside other such school ships as the Kristiania Schoolship Association’s Christian Radich out of Norway and the Danish East Asiatic Company schoolship København— the latter of which disappeared on such a run.
By all accounts, she was a happy ship during this time apart from a collision with the British steamer Koranton (6,695-tons) just off Eddystone. While Rydberg, loaded with 3,200-tons of wheat at the time, lost several plates on the port side and her main top-gallant, she could make for England and repairs.
She was a celebrated Cape Horn windjammer still in operation during an age of steamships and drew a crowd every time she came near shore. As she carried some 35,000sq yds. of canvas and could make 14-knots on it with no sweat, she was a sight, indeed.
Her cadets hard at work both on deck and aloft in the below video, with her skipper talking about the great “Grain Races” of the 1930s. Rydberg made seven round trips from Europe to Australia between 1933-38:
When WWII started, Rydberg kept in the dangerous service of merchant shipping under the nominal shield of her country’s flag. Operating on the less-risky Brazil-to-Boston run, a neutral ship between two neutral ports, she made Santos in just 49 days on one trip.
Immediately following the outbreak of the war, both the Britsh and Germans thought some travel by Swedish merchantmen was good and entered into an odd agreement between the three that Stockholm’s ships going into and out of the Baltic through the two belligerents’ respective naval blockades were fine as long as all three parties agreed to each voyage. In all, some 226 sailings to and 222 sailings from Sweden were cleared in such a manner– though nine ships were lost on these “pre-screened” runs as not everyone got the message. Further, the agreement didn’t apply to Swedish ships outside of Northern Europe, hence Rydberg‘s change to operations from the U.S.
Make no mistake though, the Swedish merchant service suffered during the war (as did the Swedish Navy– the submarine HMSwS Ulven was sunk by the Germans in 1943), neutrality be damned. In all, an estimated 2,000-2,500 Swedish sailors and fishermen were killed during the conflict as no less than 201 unarmed Swedish-flagged merchant ships and 31 fishing vessels were sent to the bottom in attacks from the Germans, Soviets, and British. You can be sure that many men who trained as boys on the Rydberg are on this butcher’s bill.
However, when Pearl Harbor brought the U.S. into the war and German U-boats became a regular sight off the East Coast as part of Operation Drumbeat, keeping Rydberg in service was considered too risky and she was laid up in Baltimore harbor, her crew transiting back to Sweden. She had retained a Lloyds 1A classification her entire career with the Swedes, an accomplishment for any merchant vessel pushing 50 years on her keel.
It was then that she was given the dishonor of becoming a diesel-powered freighter when, after she was bought by the Portuguese firm of Julio Ribeiro Campos in 1943 for $265,000, had her masts stepped and a pair of Fairbanks Morse M6s installed at Kensington Shipyard in Philadelphia. Her new name, Fox do Duoro.
Poking around for another decade, she was resold twice more to various concerns in Lisbon until finally being offered for her value in scrap metal to Société Anonyme Bonita, Tangiers, who broke her in 1957.
Sadly, that was also the last year the Abraham Rydbergs group was in operation as a maritime institute, though it still exists as a foundation which provides a scholarship to other schools’ training programs. A fourth Rydberg, the former British yacht Sunbeam II, a 194-foot three-masted schooner built by Lord Runciman, was bought by the school in 1945 and used for a decade before they got out of the schoolship business for good. Incidentally, this final ship is in the service of the Hellenic Navy currently.
Our Rydberg, is, however, widely remembered in maritime art.
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