Friday, November 14, 2008

When sailing was the way

A hundred years ago even hundreds of sailing ships could be found at the Valparaiso's bay... At any time but winter you could see dozens of three, four and even the world's largest five masted ships at harbour.
One of the latest working caphonier sailing ships doing the trek around Cap Horn to Europe was the s.s. Calbuco (photo above), a german/chilean owned ship that had been carrying wood, coal, nitrates and other freewares as cargo along the chilean coast since the early twenties to the beginning of the II World War. Around that time (1942), it changed ownership, with a new chilean-german captain but retaining a good part of the chilean crew plus some new hands including my then teenager uncle Tito who went on board at Coquimbo to sail through the dangerous trek to one Europe in war. They had to do it twice, at the first try they had to get back after rounding the Horn because they were undermanned to hold its way sailing through the southern gales. The second time they made their way to Montevideo, place where the Graf von Spee battleship had found a temporary refuge from battle before being sunken against a british squadron in the southern Atlantic. There, realising what was going on, part of the chilean crew including my uncle got afraid of this adventure leaving the ship to go back to Chile overland. This ship continued with nitrate for Europe where the myth tell many hands were lost and still today in family circles I have heard the stories my dad told about my uncle's friends who never came back or even were heard of.... De ellos nunca más se supo....
The largest of these nitrate sailing ships visiting Valpo was the Preussen (photo above taken in Valpo around 1905). This was part of a large sailing fleet belonging to the german P Line or Laeisz company that along with the french Bordes Company were the largest world sailing companies both with main branches in Valpo.