Recalling these ships' heyday


Gone: The Doris Hamlin and the Albert F. Paul were two elegant ships that graced Baltimore's port in the 1930s. Now the once-popular windjammers exist only in memory.

July 15, 2000|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

The recent visit of the tall ships may have stirred memories in older Baltimoreans of the days when wooden-hulled ships with tall masts and white sails could still be seen riding at anchor or docked at harbor piers.

By the late 1930s, the fleet of four-masted Baltimore-registered schooners, which numbered 100 before World War I, was represented by two floating anachronisms, the Doris Hamlin and Albert F. Paul, windjammers that continued sailing well into the age of steam.

"The vessels could always be seen discharging lumber or logwood, loading fertilizer materials or bricks, anchored off Riverview, moored in Jones Falls at Pratt Street, or tied up at the Redman-Vane or old Woodall shipyards," wrote noted Chesapeake Bay ship historian Robert H. Burgess in a Sunday Sun Magazine article in 1966.

Owned by C.C. Paul & Co. and W.B. Vane of Baltimore, the Doris Hamlin had been built in Harrington, Maine, and since 1931 had called Baltimore home port.

Displacing 1,500 tons, the slim and graceful vessel was 212 feet long with a beam of 39 1/2 feet. The masts, 32 inches in diameter, towered 117 feet above the main deck.

Burgess, who had crewed aboard the Hamlin in 1936, recalled that the ship would sail from Hampton Roads, Va., to Bermuda with a load of coal and then to Haiti to take on a cargo of logwood. The logwood was shipped to Baltimore where it was used in the manufacture of dye.

"That was a favorite triangular voyage for the Baltimore schooners," noted Burgess.

World War I had probably extended the lives of these vessels that were the "residuary legatees of the clipper era," observed The Sun, and "they sailed to South America, to Africa and to Europe.

"During the war, when sailing ships were in great demand owing to the scarcity of steamship tonnage, many of the fleet were bought by foreign operators and scattered all over the world.

"After the war, as a result of the impetus it had given to ship construction, there were more than enough steamers to take over the sailing trade. Proud old canvas-spreading beauties that had survived the German raiders and U-boats never really had another chance. But for a few years they made a brave show," concluded the newspaper.

The elegant old vessels never had trouble gathering a crew. "Most of those who seek jobs on the ships with big sticks are deepwater sailors, whose first training was on bay bugeyes, schooners, sloops or any of the varied types of sailing craft for which the Chesapeake Bay is known.

"Often they are men who have taken a turn at steam and long for the thrills of sailing again before the mast," reported The Sun in 1937.

In 1939, a victim of fewer and fewer voyages, soaring costs and speedier ships, the Hamlin was laid up at a Key Highway shipyard awaiting dismantling or sale to a new owner.

After war broke out in Europe with the invasion of Poland in September 1939, a need for ships arose and the Hamlin was sold to a New York coal company. The ship was towed to Norfolk, Va., where she was overhauled in a local shipyard.

Under the command of Capt. S.E. Isaksen, who had accompanied Rear Adm. Richard E. Byrd to the Antarctic, and with a crew of 10, the Hamlin was put to sea with a cargo of coal bound for the Canary Islands.

After being battered by two storms and returning to Norfolk for repairs, the Hamlin was finally put to sea on what was to be her last voyage in February of 1940.

She was presumed lost with all hands when she failed to report to her port of call.

"Some persons felt that the schooner had been sunk by a U-boat or German raider. Seafaring men think she may have encountered storms that blew her masts over the side. In turn, her decks would have been torn up, allowing the seas to rush below and sink her. She had no radio; the crew's only hope of escape would have lain in the heavy motor yawl, which could not have survived the heavy weather," wrote Burgess.

Baltimore's sailing era was brought to an end with the loss of the Albert F. Paul.

After being sold to the Albert Shipping Co., the ship transported a load of coal from Newport News to Bermuda. She then sailed to the Bahamas where she loaded salt for Norfolk. Failing to make port, the ship was believed to have been a casualty of war.

"After the war, a Government list of merchant vessels sunk by war causes revealed that the Albert F. Paul had been lost in the Atlantic on March 4, 1942," wrote Burgess.

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