The four-masters were utterly different vessels to the far more common barques
and ships with three masts, the classic 'sailing ship' of books and paintings.
and Polly Woodside
are good examples of barques
(three masts is assumed - the number is usually only specified for
the four and five masted vessels).
Yes, there were indeed several five-masters – one full-rigged ship
, and five barques, including famous København
tragically loss in 1928.
And the difference between a ship and a barque? A ship has square sails on all
masts, while a barque has fore-and-aft sails on the rearmost mast. See
more on barques and full-rigged ships.
Here's a comparison of a three-masted barque with a four-master,
plus a clip-art London bus for scale. Three-masters were big: four-masters
Here are two melancholic ships songs I like – Shipbuilding by Robert Wyatt and The Grey
Funnel Line by Delores Keane, Mary Black and Emmylou Harris.
How did the Four-Masters Evolve?
While I was doing this book I compiled the years and places of
manufacture of the iron and steel four-masted barques from Lars Bruzelius'
Catalogue of Four-Masted Ships and Barques
The catalogue lists 442 four-masted vessels built from 1801 to 1989. Excluding
28 (12 made of wood, 10 converted from steamers, five Japanese ships and one
yacht) left a total of 414 iron or steel four-masted barques or ships, all
built in a fifty-year period from 1875 to 1926
Hulls and Rigging Over Time
Here are the vessels plotted over time: iron or steel, barque- or ship-rigged.
The change from iron to steel is obvious, as well as the move from full-rigged
ships to the more easily sailed barques, with their steep rise in construction in
the early 1890s and even more abrupt plummet.
Note: there is a small error in Figure 4 of Alan Villiers: ten iron ships were
were accidentally not plotted on the histogram: seven for 1878 and three for 1879.
This is the corrected graph. (The error did not affect Figure 3, countries of
origin, as below.)
Countries of Origin of the Four-Masters
An extraordinary 84% of the four-masters were built in Britain, followed by 7%
in France and 4% Germany. Over the fifty-year era each country had different
construction periods, the British first and the Germans towards the end.
Shipyards of the British Four-Masters
Shipyards on the River Clyde in Scotland built the vast majority of the British
four-masters, 62%; followed by 10% from Liverpool, 6% from Sunderland and 5%
from Belfast. Here is a breakdown of the British shipyards that built 84% of
the world's four-masters, with the number of four-masters that came from each yard.
That there were nineteen locations, large and small, around Britain that had
the knowledge and skills to build such enormous vessels is amazing.
Where Are They Now?
Of the 414 original four-masters, in 2008 only seven barques remained.
From Alan Villiers
Four were once Erikson grain carriers: Moshulu today is a restaurant in
Philadelphia and Viking a hotel in Gothenburg, both much altered. Passat is a
handsome museum vessel at Travemünde; while honest, unchanged Pommern floats at
her home in Mariehamn.
The other three were German nitrate carriers: Peking is
a museum vessel in New York, while Kruzenshtern (ex-Padua) and Sedov
(ex-Magdalene Vinnen) are Russian sail-training vessels. Kruzenshtern recently
circumnavigated the globe, while Sedov has sailed more than 300,000 nautical
miles in the last forty years. They are the acknowledged monarchs of the
As I was focused on the European merchant vessels, I left some ships
off this list of surviving four-masters, such as luxury yacht Sea Cloud
and Japanese training ships Nippon Maru and Kaiwo Maru, which
have also been preserved; and Falls of Clyde, the last iron
full-rigged ship, which in 2008 was derelict and going to be sunk for a breakwater.
And now in 2018, a decade later?
- Moshulu (Britain 1904, four-masted steel barque) is still a floating
restaurant in Philadelphia, USA.
- Viking (Denmark 1906, four-masted steel barque) is still a hotel in
- Passat (Germany 1911, four-masted steel barque) is still a handsome
museum vessel at Travemünde, Germany.
- Pommern (Britain 1903, four-masted steel barque) is still a
beautiful attraction at Mariehamn, Finland.
- Kruzenshtern (Germany 1926, four-masted steel barque) is still
sailing as a training vessel in Russia.
- Sedov (Germany 1921, four-masted steel barque) is still sailing as
a training vessel in Russia.
- Peking (Germany 1911, four-masted steel barque) was returned to Germany
in 2017 for restoration.
- Falls of Clyde (Britain 1878, iron full-rigged ship)
will be returned to Scotland in 2018 for restoration.
So a decade after the book appeared, none of the surviving four-masters has
been lost, and two that didn't appear to have much of a future will now be
preserved. Alan Villiers would certainly have approved.