NMMC exhibition commemorates the last commercial windjammer Cape Horn voyage

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The crew at the wheel of Passat - Holger Thesleff

The crew at the wheel of windjammer Passat (photograph by third officer Holger Thesleff supplied by NMMC)

King Neptune and his court onboard Passat - Holger Thesleff Passat sailing from Falmouth - July 1939

King Neptune and his court onboard Passat (photo taken by Holger Thesleff and supplied by the NMMC); Passat sailing from Falmouth in July 1939

National Maritime Museum Cornwall curators are celebrating the final days of commercial square-rigged sailing ships with an autumn exhibition timed to mark 60 years since the last windjammer cargo ship taking part in a ‘grain race’ rounded Cape Horn.

In the early 20th century the British public gambled on which ship carrying grain from Australia to Europe would make the fastest trip of the year in what were called the grain races. At the time, this was one of only a few trade routes that remained viable for the world’s big sailing vessels.

The exhibition, which is to appear at 12 museums across the globe during 2009, includes a range of original objects from the ships, stunning photographs and a detailed account of that final voyage. The NMMC’s exhibition will also include the photographs by Geoffrey Robertshaw, who recorded life on board the windjammers during journeys between Australia and Falmouth. His personal logbooks, photographs and personal possessions have kindly been lent to the NMMC by Elvin Carter of Devoran.

Farewell to Sails opens on 1 September and runs until the 26 November at the National Maritime Museum Cornwall in Falmouth.

On Monday 7 September Elvin Carter will be giving an illustrated lecture at the Maritime Museum about Geoffrey Robertshaw’s remarkable life aboard the windjammers.

PS… If you haven’t read it, Eric Newby’s book The Last Great Grain Race describes one of these voyages superbly.

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9 thoughts on “NMMC exhibition commemorates the last commercial windjammer Cape Horn voyage”

  1. Gday Gavin, If my information is correct the Pamir and the Passat were the last of the grain clippers on the Australia run and both left a Sth Aust. Port together sometime in the late 1940's on their last run in the trade. I take this information from a local SA historical source dealing with the shallow draft sailing ketches that were the feeder vessel from the farm to the terminus or accasionally the ship.

  2. Newby's book is one of the best of many written by a wonderful writer who also loved boats. One of the really interesting things about it though is that while he was in many ways writing a story that hadn't changed in 300 years, he was writing it as an essentially modern man: his tone and sensibility are in many ways almost as if he was writing today.

    Love and War in the Apennines is also very good, and has a folding kayak bit, though it didn't come off as well as Blondie Hassler's go with them.

    Hard to go too far wrong with Newby, in any case.

  3. Newby also did a book of photos of his trip round the world on the Moshulu, as detailed in "The Last Grain Race." It is called "Learning the Ropes," and is also really wonderful.

  4. A great writer was Newby, I have read and read "A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush" and I have a set of books by various colonial military figures, "Small Wars of the Empire". Interesting reading in relation to present day troubles in the same areas.

  5. I loved that book too, Jeff. My favorite bit was when Newby was walking down out of Nuristan, I think, happy to have been the first recorded westerner to have gone there and come out alive. He's camping with his buddy and their guides and who should come hoofing it up the trail but Wilfred Thesiger. Thesiger, apparently figuring he was going to be the first in, was more than a little put out to find he had been trumped by a day or two and worse by a guy who had trained for the trip on a weekend in Wales. Newby tried not to crow in print, but his glee at having stolen a march on somebody like Thesiger was impossible to keep out of the text.

  6. The very last Grain race was actually between Pamir and Passat, from May 28th to October 2nd, 1949.

    The Passat took 110 days to Queenstown, Irland.

    The Pamir took 127 days to Falmouth, UK. She was the last pure windjammer (without engine) to pass the Horn on July 10th, 1949.

    End of an era.

    They then both were towed to Penarth as grain silo.

  7. I too have read Newby's book. My Uncle was on the Passat when she sailed in the last great grain race. For any Cape Horners who may have known him, he died in Maesteg Wales 2 days ago on Saturday 5th June 2010. He was photographed in THE POST as a young man at the wheel. RIP Uncle Bill. (( WILLIAM JEFFEREY)) xxx

  8. This is great! I will send this link to my father. He started sailing on the Passat as a merchant marine trainee and later became a captain at the age of 22. I always love hearing his stories of sailing on the Passat.
    Thanks for putting this together!
    Brigitte

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