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It appeared that the fate of Merry was sealed. First she was trapped by ice in the Baltic Sea, and then an electrical fault started a fire in the engine room and the timber deck began to burn. With no electrical power the pumps would not operate, the extinguishers were exhausted, and without water to fight the fire the vessel was abandoned and allowed to burn. Flames engulfed the wheelhouse and the aft accommodation fell about the engine in smouldering remains. She ended her last trading voyage when the sea eventually thawed by being ingloriously towed into a small Swedish port where the cargo was unloaded and she was laid up. Then, at anchor and unattended, some youths got aboard and attempted to light an oil stove in the forecastle. It backfired, sprayed fuel around, and the fire that followed completed the destruction by gutting the forward accommodation. Merry then lay very dejected, and nearly at the end of her long life, or so it seemed...

The vessel had started her life of trade almost sixty years earlier. Built in Germany in 1911 as a topsail schooner, she was first named Friedrich. She made two voyages each year to South America carrying salt from Germany, hides from Argentina to Cornwall, and china clay from there back to Germany. Little is known of her career after the Great War, but in 1923 she was bought by a Swedish family, fitted with an engine, and used for trade in the Baltic and North Seas, and as a fishing vessel off Iceland in the summer months.

She was built purely for cargo work. The vessel had one continuous hold, two hatches and a raised aft deck containing the wheel house and accommodation. She was constructed with iron frames at 50 cm spacing, with open floors and keelson, bar keel and stem. The hull was clad in iron plating, varying in thickness from 9 mm in the bottom plates to 6 mm in the topside strakes. Her registration has varied over her long career. She was launched as Friedrich and registered at Hamburg, but in 1935 her name was Adele, which, in 1936 became Katherina, and Frieda in 1942. Her measurements were equally inconsistent. When built she was registered as 114 tons, which grew to 175 tons by 1969. Meanwhile her length was growing from 103' 8" at the launch to 112' 3" in 1954, and 121' 4" in 1969!

She also had several owners, but she was always committed to a life of trade until 1969 when the fires occurred. As her owners operated a towing service in Gothenburg, they could still see a purpose for the burntout hull and proposed to cut her down to make a barge for carrying ship sections between the small shipyards along the Swedish coast and the main assembly yards in Gothenburg. But her future changed dramatically when a group of sail-minded Australians heard about her plight and offered to buy her. The Swedish owners could not understand the sudden enthusiasm from the other side of the world.

Trading in the Baltic Sea, 1930's (Photo: Hilmersson, Gothenburg)

Trading in the Baltic Sea, 1930's (Photo: Hilmersson, Gothenburg)


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