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Meet the beautiful Pamir: The world’s last commercial sailing ship & it’s gorgeous!

Ian Smith

Pamir, a four-masted barque, was one of the famous Flying P-Liner sailing ships of the German shipping company F. Laeisz. She was the last commercial sailing ship to round Cape Horn, in 1949. By 1957, she had been outmoded by modern bulk carriers and could not operate at a profit.

Her shipping consortium’s inability to finance much-needed repairs or to recruit sufficient sail-trained officers caused severe technical difficulties. On 21 September 1957 she was caught in Hurricane Carrie and sank off the Azores, with only six survivors rescued after an extensive search.

Pamir was built at the Blohm & Voss shipyards in Hamburg, launched on 29 July 1905. She had a steel hull and displacement of 3,020 GRT (2,777 net).

She had an overall length of 114.5 m (375 ft), a beam of about 14 m (46 ft) and a draught of 7.25 m (23.5 ft). Three masts stood 51.2 m (168 ft) above deck and the main yard was 28 m (92 ft) wide. She carried 3,800 m² (40,900 ft²) of sails and could reach a top speed of 16 knots (30 km/h). Her regular cruise speed was around 8-9 knots.

The German ship Pamir which, in 1949, became the last commercial sailing ship to round Cape Horn.

The German ship Pamir which, in 1949, became the last commercial sailing ship to round Cape Horn.

Pamir was the fifth of ten near-sister ships. She was commissioned on 18 October 1905 and used by the Laeisz company in the South American nitrate trade.

By 1914, she had made eight voyages to Chile, taking between 64 and about 70 days for a one-way trip from Hamburg to Valparaíso or Iquique, the foremost Chilean nitrate ports at the time. During World War I she stayed in Santa Cruz de la Palma port in La Palma Island, the Canary Islands between October 1914 until March 1920. Due to post-war conditions she did not return to Hamburg until 17 March 1920 from Santa Cruz de la Palma.

Painting of the Pamir by Yasmina (2008)

Painting of the Pamir by Yasmina (2008).Source

During World War II Pamir was seized as a prize of war by the New Zealand government on 3 August 1941 while in port at Wellington. Ten commercial voyages were made under the New Zealand flag: five to San Francisco, three to Vancouver, one to Sydney and her last voyage across the Tasman from Sydney to Wellington carrying 2700 tons of cement and 400 tons of nail wire.  Weathering a storm during the last Tasman voyage is described in detail by one of the mates, Andrew Keyworth, in a letter never posted.

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