The 1750-ton steel-hulled fully-rigged ship Grace Harwar was launched in Glasgow in 1889 and for the next 45 years, she crossed the world’s oceans carrying all manner of bulk cargoes. She was well known to Australian mariners and dockworkers regularly taking on coal, grain and other goods bound for distant ports.
Despite her majestic lines and presence, she gained a terrible reputation as a cursed ship. On her 1889 maiden voyage, the bosun was lost when an upper yard was carried away in a gale off Cape Horn.
On a passage from Cape Town to New Zealand in December 1901, she was slammed by a powerful storm as she neared her destination. Heavy seas broke over her sweeping the lifeboats away. The ballast shifted and the ship took on a dangerous list which saw the lee rail submerged three feet under water. The captain was swept overboard but fortunately, a wave washed him back on deck where he scrambled to safety. A crewman was not so lucky and drowned. But, the Grace Harwar survived limping into Gisborne for repairs.
While sailing from Australia to Tocopilla Chile in 1907, the captain’s young wife died from tuberculosis off the South American coast. Captain Hudson returned his wife’s body to Sydney in the hold and then left the Grace Harwar, never to go to sea in her again.
Then in July 1910, a seaman was killed when the Royal Yard came crashing down on deck just as the men were congratulating themselves on making it around Cape Horn unscathed.
The following year, 1911, she was anchored at Coquimbo in Chile when a freak storm blew out of nowhere causing havoc with the ships anchored in the bay. The Grace Harwar lost her figurehead and bowsprit when she collided with another ship as they both swung on the end of their anchor chains. Then her anchors started dragging and she ground against a German barque causing yet more damage. During the same year, one of the mates was injured and later died during an operation to recover a lost anchor at the Chilean port of Iquique.
During a ferocious hurricane, while anchored at Mobile Alabama in the Gulf of Mexico a seaman was knocked overboard by a loose spar where he drowned before anyone could go to his aid. That was in 1916.
By 1929 the number of fully-rigged sailing ships still operating commercially was dwindling. Increasingly, vessels moving cargo and people across the world’s oceans no longer relied on wind to power them along. Two young Australian journalists wanted to record the passing of the era. They joined the Grace Harwar’s crew in South Australia to film the old windjammer’s voyage as she delivered a cargo of wheat to England via Cape Horn. One of the reporters, Ronald Walker was struck by a falling yard while aloft during foul weather and died. The footage he and his partner, Allan Villiers shot was edited together to make the 1930 feature-length film “Windjammer.”
The Grace Harwar was a regular at the annual “Great Grain Race” through the first half of the 1930s carrying wheat from ports in the Spencer Gulf, South Australia to England. Strictly speaking, it was not an official race but the captains of the windjammers that carried the annual grain harvest were known to wager bets on who would deliver their cargo in the quickest time. And of course, there were bragging rights at stake.
In 1935 the Grace Harwar’s career came to an end. She made one last 40km voyage from Falmouth to Charlestown in the UK where she was broken up for scrap.
© Copyright C.J. Ison / Tales from the Quarterdeck, 2022.
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