Wednesday, March 02, 2016

The Mystery of the Missing Sailing Ship

It was back during the month of March in the year 1938, that a famous sailing ship disappeared never to be seen or heard again.  This ship was sailing in the South Seas, and it was equipped with a modern set of radio equipment.  That is the story here in Wavescan today, the story of a tragic event that took place 78 years ago, next month.

It was back in the year 1908 that a specially designed sailing ship was built at Bremerhaven in Germany and it was one of the last full size sailing ships ever built.  It was designed as a training ship that would see service worldwide on behalf of an organization in Belgium whose French name could be translated into English as Belgian Maritime.  
            This new ship was a four masted barque with a sleek metal hull and it was christened as L’Avenir, the Future.  Three years after it was launched, that is in the year 1911, Marconi wireless equipment was installed and the ship identified in Morse Code with the callsign MAZ.  The good ship L’Avenir was honored as the first sailing ship in the world to have wireless equipment installed.
            In 1932 the ship was sold to Gustaf Erikson of Finland; and five years later again (1937), it was sold to the German shipping company, Norddeutscher Lloyd, the Hamburg Amerika Line.  At that stage, the L’Avenir was renamed the Admiral Karpfanger, in honor of Admiral Berend Karpfanger, a German hero who successfully fought against ocean-going pirates in the 1600s. 
            Under the ship’s German owners, the Admiral Karpfanger plied the major oceans as a cargo carrying training ship.  During the (southern) summer of 1938, this ship entered Spencer Gulf on the south coast of the Australian continent and tied up at the jetty at Port Germein. 
            This oceanside jetty on the edge of a rural wheat-growing locality was the longest jetty in the Southern Hemisphere, extending out into the gulf for more than a mile.  The shallow mud flats made harboring difficult for ocean going vessels.
            At Port Germein, the Admiral Karpfanger took on a full load of bagged wheat, 3½ thousand tons of it, until all of the holds were completely filled.  The ship was heavily laden, allowing only five inches to its legal draught.  However, when it sailed out into the Gulf and into the Southern Ocean, she was within both legal and safety limits.  
            However, there was one known problem at this stage, and it was admitted that the radio generator was defective.  It is presumed that their definition of a radio generator was a power generator that charged the batteries that operated the radio equipment.
            The Admiral Karpfanger sailed out east, past New Zealand and onwards over the wide Pacific Ocean towards the southern tip of South America.  On Tuesday March 1, 1938, the ship radioed Awarua Radio ZLB at the southern tip of New Zealand, stating that all was well. 
            Three days later, another radio message from the Admiral Karpfanger, callsign DJTX, was beamed to the German maritime station DAN, at Norddeich Radio.  And the same again, five days later; and again the following day.
            Then, on Saturday March 12 (1938), the radio officer aboard the Admiral Karpfanger radioed Norddeich Radio once again, and he reported as usual, that all was well.  The reported position of the ship, geographers tell us, was well on course and at a good pace for a wind driven ocean going ship.  However, that was the last message from the Admiral Karpfanger DJTX.  
            No more radio messages, and the ship never turned up at any port anywhere ever again.  So what happened to her?  The fact that the radio was still working, it would seem that whatever happened must have been a sudden and unexpected turn of events. 
            Mariners familiar with the waterways around Cape Horn suggest that the ship unexpectedly struck an unseen iceberg, and foundered.  Others suggest that she struck an uncharted reef and sank nearby very quickly. 
            Over a period of time, a few items of debris from the stricken ship have washed up on nearby shores, some items that were subsequently identified as belonging to the Admiral Karpfanger.  This would suggest that the ship sank, apparently without breaking up, in the vicinity of Navarin Island at the southern tip of South America.
            A German court of enquiry concluded that the ship probably caught a massive rogue wave that tipped her on her side, and she sank quickly due to her own total weight.
            This tragic event with a loss of 60 personnel, crew and trainees, all happened during the month of March 78 years ago.
(AWR/Wavescan-NWS 366 via Adrian Peterson)