The mighty six and seven-masted schooners


For a brief time in the early part of the last century, a series of enormous cargo-carrying schooners plied the sea. Read about the six-masters here on Stanley B Wallace’s website.

But perhaps the most famous is the one in the photo, the Thomas B Lawson, a 1902-built seven-masted steel-hulled schooner that primarily carryied coal and oil along the East Coast of the United States.

The photo above comes from the Wikipedia Commons, which says that the photo is believed to have been taken during her maiden voyage.

At 395ft she is said to have been the largest schooner ever built, and also and the largest purely sail-powered vessel, that is with no engine.

She met her end off the Scilly Isles in the winter of 1907 after her anchor chains snapped, killing all but two of her tiny 18-man crew, and those who died included a pilot. She was carrying 58,000 barrels of paraffin oil, and ironically, given that she was a purely sail-powered vessel, her wrecking caused a significant oil spill on the Scilly Isles. Some say it was the first large oil spill from a ship.

Those among her crew that were found were buried on St Agnes; the only survivors were the captain and an engineer.

In a bizarre touch, it seems that one of the Lawson’s anchors is now built into the outside wall of Charles Dickens’ old home at Broadstairs, Bleak House. (And just around the corner from where I too once lived, as it happens, though I didn’t make the connection at the time.)

Although she was designed by the racing yacht designer Bowdoin B Crowninshield, it is said the Lawson was a real dog at sea, with too little sail area to sail well, and not ideal as a cargo carrier on the Eastern seaboard of the USA because the area’s shallow harbours meant she could not be sailed loaded to her design displacement.

I have to say that, as magnificent as she was, the Lawson somehow didn’t have the looks we associate with Crowninshield’s racing yachts.

There’s a lot more to read about the Lawson at the Wikipedia.


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