Friedrich Adolph Vinnen, a German shipbuilder from Bremen, could not have known when he set sail on Feb. 14, 1921, that the Magdalene Vinnen II would have such a long and wonderful life. There was a tradition in the Vinnen family business to name sailboats after family members, regardless of whether they were for personal use or for sale.
At the turn of the 20th century, there was a boom in steel sailing boats and hundreds of the multiple-mast giants were built in Europe and America. The ships were very profitable for their owners, as lots of grain and potassium nitrate were being transported from Australia and South America. Freight prices were so high that it was possible to see a return on one’s investment in a ship after just a couple of voyages, assuming one did not overspend on manning and supplies.
However, these sailboats weren't able to withstand winds and currents, and they were at times caught in hurricanes, thrown onto the rocks, sunk or even burned when their load of potassium nitrate ignited, leading to horrific losses.
By the end of the First World War, it was clear that steamers would completely replace the sailing fleet very soon. The economic crisis of the 1920s was the last straw for the “winged giants.” The costs of maintaining the rigging were too high and numerous ships that weren’t being used were disposed of.
The Magdalene Vinnen II’s owner had great financial difficulties and had to sell the ship to North German Lloyd, a state-owned company, in 1936.
The barque was then renamed the Kommodore Johnsen after the legendary sailor and commodore Nicholas Johnsen. The ship was hastily converted and carried its usual freight of Australian grain with a group of cadets on board. That voyage was nearly its last after the barque was caught in a severe storm in the North Atlantic, the crew only just managing to prevent it from sinking.
The Kommodore Johnsen spent the Second World War in the Baltic Sea, actively sailing between German ports with military supplies and serving as a training site for future sailors.
In 1945, after the defeat of Germany, the barque was sent to the Soviet Union as part of Germany’s war reparation payments. When handing it over to its new Soviet crew, one of the German officers grinned and asked, "What are you going to do with it?" He was right to ask, as no one in the Soviet Navy knew how to handle one of the “sailing giants.”
Renamed the Sedov, the barque sat and rusted in Liepaja in Latvia. It’s anyone’s guess what would have happened to it if not for Pyotr Mitrofanov, an officer in the Soviet Navy and the first Soviet commander of the Sedov, a man who dedicated himself to the cause of returning the ship to the sea. He and his crew repaired the vessel on Kronstadt Island in the Gulf of Finland and they made their first voyage with Mitrofanov literally learning how to sail the ship as they went along. He presented the ship to his superiors as a training ship first and later as a hydrographic vessel.
A ship without a sailor is a pile of iron. The Sedov has always been lucky with those who commanded, maintained and repaired it. There was even a campaign to protect the ship in the 1960s after the navy lost interest in it. The ship’s new owner, the Ministry of Fisheries, at first didn't imagine what a burden the ship would become. The Sedov needed major repairs and huge investments. But the persistence Mitrofanov and his friends showed was rewarded with an extension of the lives of not just the Sedov but also the Kruzenshtern, another barque that had originally been part of the German navy.
After six years of leisurely repairs from 1975 to 1981 and its modernisation, the Sedov went off on its first voyage as part of the fishing industry. This was followed by ten happy years when the ship was a training site for future sailors from all over the Soviet Union.
Based in Riga, the Sedov was again under threat after the Soviet Union collapsed. The Latvian government demanded its return to its port or registry and if it had not been for the decisive actions of Captain Alexei Perevozchikov, the small Baltic country might have had a four-mast problem since the Latvians simply couldn't afford to keep such a vessel. Even Russia barely managed to keep its non-productive sailing assets in the early 1990s. The Sedov was lucky again though and Murmansk was chosen as its new home port, with the navy college based there becoming the ship’s new owner.
Over more than 30 years, tens of thousands of students have trained aboard the Sedov. Many of them have linked their lives to the sea forever. It was their first encounter with the romance of the sea under the Sedov’s sails that allowed them to choose their own destiny, and they remember sailing practice as one of the happiest times in their lives.
The Sedov is four masts of sails, The Sedov is always ready for any storms, A century at sea is not the limit for the Sedov, Glorious deeds are still ahead... by Valery Vasilevsky
Last month, the Sedov, a four-mast barque that is one of the world's largest sailing ships, turned 96. Lenta.ru and marine photographer Valery Vasilevsky captured the beauty of the pride of the Russian fleet.
The Sedov is the second largest sailboat after the five-mast Royal Clipper.
Port of Registry: Murmansk
Year of Construction: 1921
Shipyard: Germaniawerft, Kiel, Germany
Ship Type: four-mast barque
Displacement: 6,148 tonnes
Length: 117.5 metres
Width: 14.7 metres
Draft: 6.7 metres
Mast Height: 58 metres
Speed under Sails: 18 knots
Speed under Engine: 10 knots