In February 1929 there was concern in shipping circles because for weeks there had been no report from the Danish sailing vessel Kobenhavn. She had departed from Buenos Aires on December 14, 1928, in ballast, to load a cargo of grain in Melbourne. One week later she sent a radio report to her head office in Denmark and the following day exchanged signals with the SS William Blumer, a Norwegian steamer. At that time, she was well out into the South Atlantic on her way to pass to the south of the Cape of Good Hope.
At the time the Kobenhavn was the largest sailing ship in the world and the only surviving five-masted barque. Only five other five-masted barques and one five-masted ship were ever built as cargo-carrying vessels. Launched in 1921 at Leith, Scotland, for the Danish East Asiatic Company, she had a length of 131m and a gross tonnage of 3965. The largest sailing vessel ever built in Great Britain, her hull, masts and yards were constructed from steel and her four square-rigged masts towered to 60m. Under full sail she spread 4650 square metres of sail.
Kobenhavn was built as a training vessel for Danish cadets and until 1928 she traded all over the world, carrying a variety of cargoes and earning a reputation for her sailing ability and smart appearance. During the 1920s she visited Australia on three occasions, including Melbourne in 1926.
After her contact with the William Blumer on December 17, 1928, nothing further was heard from the Kobenhavn. Searches were made along the coastline of Africa and Australia and the islands of the Southern Ocean were visited to look for survivors and wreckage, but to this day no identifiable wreckage from her has ever been found. Perhaps she was capsized by some huge wave or she struck an iceberg and sank very quickly. Many icebergs were sighted in the Southern Ocean that summer. Whatever happened, all 45 of her cadets and 15 crew were lost, with their families having no knowledge of how they died.
BY MAURIE HUTCHINSON
President, Peninsula Ship Society
T: Maurie Hutchinson 9787 5780
The Peninsula Ship Society meets at Hastings Yacht Club on the fourth Tuesday of each month at 10am. Visitors always welcome.