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Welcome aboard! The GRÖNLAND under sails

Every sailing trip with the GRÖNLAND is a special event for the crew. But there is also a lot to do during the berthing time in the harbour. Whether skipper, boatswain or sailor - the whole crew is involved.

Come along on the GRÖNLAND! Hull and superstructure are almost exclusively made of oak. The hull measures 19.64 m in total and just under 18.16 m in the waterline. With bowsprit and jib boom the ship is 29.30 m long. This makes the GRÖNLAND a rather small ship. With a width of just 6.06 m and a draught of only 2.40 m, she can even pass through small locks, rivers and canals. The wooden ship's mast is 28 m high from keel to tip, of which about 25 m projects into the sky above the deck, and is constantly exposed to seawater, wind, sun and changing temperatures. They must therefore be carefully maintained. It is therefore the crew's job to sand the deck and superstructure once a year and to repaint it with wood preservative and fresh paint. The hull structure is regularly inspected for damage, which is repaired if necessary. The crew relies on active support from the DSM wood workshop. Newly installed timbers are impregnated to prevent water from penetrating and thus fungal and mould infestation. Today, this work gives a concrete idea of the maintenance practice of wooden sailing ships, although the means are not always the same as 150 years ago. As early as the 1970s, the GRÖNLAND was structurally largely restored to its original condition of 1868. Older conversions (e.g. aft deckhouse, Püttingeisen) were removed or deconstructed. Despite numerous repairs, the structures of the GRÖNLAND (hull, rigging, sails) are thus the same as those of the first polar expedition in 1868, so that seamanship and ship technology of the 19th century can be authentically reconstructed here.



The polar research vessel is currently undergoing refurbishment.

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With the purchase of a SEUTE DEERN watch, you are safeguarding history: part of the proceeds will go towards the refurbishment of the GRÖNLAND.



One mast and seven sails. The rigging of the GRÖNLAND

The GRÖNLAND has a typical cutter rig with seven sails on one mast. The total sail area adds up to about 300 m2. As the heart of the rigging, the mast has to withstand strong forces. For safety reasons it is therefore replaced regularly (every 10 to 15 years). The last time was in spring 2018, when a new mast made of Douglas fir wood (Oregon pine) was installed. By the way: The mast does not consist of a grown tree trunk, but was - as was common practice in the 19th century - assembled from numerous composite pieces.

And so back to the sails. First of all there is the mainsail, a gaff sail with a surface of about 100 m2. It is the largest sail on the ship and is the first to be set at sea. Then there are the headsails jib, jib and jager. These triangular sails, set between the mast and jib boom, run on flaps (horseshoe-shaped slip rings) over the staple lines, where they can be moved up and down like a curtain. Finally, the gaff topsail is also part of the classic cutter rigging. It is attached to a spar when sailing downwind and is placed in the gap between the mast top and the gaff. Of all the sails on the GRÖNLAND, the gaff top is the highest. While the above-mentioned headsails (mainsail, foresail, gaff topsail) can be set and hoisted from the deck, the two square sails - broad jib (large lower square sail) and mars (smaller upper square sail) - require classic hoisting over the side shrouds. Depending on the wind direction and course, the sails are set in different combinations. For example, the Schratsegel are best suited for courses on the wind (sideways or diagonally from the front), whereas in aft winds the two square-sails are preferred.


A home for twelve friends: life on board

A round dozen people, the crew is strong when the GRÖNLAND leaves port. Equally strong was the crew that once took Captain Koldewey to the Arctic. First of all, there is the skipper (captain) and his deputy, who run the GRÖNLAND and bear overall responsibility for the ship and crew. Indispensable are also the machinists and the boatswain; he instructs the crew in manoeuvres.

A pithy smell of brown tar fills the air as soon as you go below deck. It gets caught in everything that is on board longer. There are 14 berths here, eight of which are in the fore ship, four in the mess and two more aft. The latter are reserved for the ship's command, while two further berths are reserved for provisions. As the space is limited, the berths are not large either, and with long sailors, the feet may stick out at the bottom. Be careful also with your smartphone, keys and wristwatch! What once fell into the gap between the berth and the ship's wall will probably land in the bilge and will not come out again soon. Often it goes into the berth late - and that even when an early wake-up ("Voyage, Voyage!") is announced. Cooking is done on a cast-iron stove, which is almost as old as the ship itself. Originally powered by coal, it has now been converted to gas. 


Navigation and ship safety

In 1868, Captain Koldewey had few nautical instruments, his experience and the skills of his crew to guide the ship safely. Today the GRÖNLAND crew has access to modern navigation and safety systems. Radar and the Automatic Identification System (AIS) are naturally part of the equipment. They improve the visibility of their own and other ships at sea, help to determine their position and avoid collisions when, for example, sea fog obstructs visibility. Provision is also made for emergencies. In addition to certified life rafts (DSB), the safety equipment includes life rings and self-releasing life jackets. The rescue boat at the stern and a net harness can be used to rescue people who have gone overboard in an emergency. The 167 hp air-cooled KHD V6 diesel engine of the GRÖNLAND is also indispensable for ship safety. The two traditional stock anchors weighing around 200 kg are more than just decoration. They are held in reserve for emergencies, for example, if the engine suddenly fails in narrow waters.

"Course north northwest!":. At the wheel of the GREENLAND...

in the wheelhouse and steering wheel, the GRÖNLAND does not have Instead, the ship is steered directly with the tiller. This is a strong wood, which is attached horizontally to the rudder stock. In spite of its bulky construction, the GRÖNLAND reacts immediately and precisely to all rudder positions. This is an advantage in narrow waters. At sea, however, the helmsman can feel every wave that tugs at the rudder. For this reason, the front tiller end is connected to the skiff by two freely running ropes on the right and left. Wave movements are thus absorbed by the ropes, which noticeably relieves the helmsman - often on watch for hours on end.

Commands come from the skipper, whereby different instructions are given depending on the area of operation (port, district, lake). During manoeuvres in the narrow harbour, the rudder position is announced; for example "Port 10 (degrees)", "(rudder) midship!" and "Hard starboard! The helmsman always repeats the command loudly to indicate that he has understood it. In areas with navigation signs (e.g. on the outer Weser), steering is by the barrel, which is why the skipper rarely has to intervene. Starboard barrels (green, pointed, odd numbering) and port barrels (red, blunt, even numbering) mark the fairway, the former being passed with the port side when heading for sea. Here, anticipatory steering is the order of the day. The helmsman must see the buoys well in advance in order to adjust the course in good time. This is not a problem when visibility is good, but can be difficult in rain, fog or low sun, so binoculars are always handy. At sea, where neither quay nor navigation markers provide orientation, steering is done according to the cardinal points. The skipper then announces compass courses. On a tour from Bremerhaven to Helgoland, these are usually courses around 320-350° (northwest - north-northwest). In turbulent waters, the helmsman must alternately keep an eye on the bow and the compass, because even a brief inattention will cause the ship to drift off course. In general, the GRÖNLAND and her crew are dependent on the tides, as many estuaries and harbours on the North Sea can only be approached when the tide is rising or during high water.


"Get the main sheet battened down!": Sailing on a Nordic chase

In all sailing manoeuvres the boatswain takes command of the crew. He divides them up at the halyards (ropes) when the main and headsails are set. Only through well-rehearsed teamwork of five to six people can the sails be set, whereby handling the coarse sailcloth is exhausting. If the sails are up and the sheets are tight, the wind can blow strongly into the cloth. Now the engine is stopped. Silence sets in - and the GRÖNLAND slowly picks up speed. With a speed of about eight knots (approx. 14 km/h) it is not particularly fast. After strenuous work, the crew can now relax and enjoy the extraordinary play of wood, ropes and sails in the wind and waves. Meanwhile, the helmsman still has a lot to do, as he has to adapt to the changed conditions. He must synchronously observe the predetermined course, wind direction and the position of the sails, which is sometimes a tightrope walk. As long as the engine is running, the GRÖNLAND always steers in the same way, but under sails it is different. Once the mainsail is up, the ship becomes luffing. The bow of the ship is constantly striving towards the wind and the GRÖNLAND threatens to run off course. So if you want to keep going straight ahead, you have to put the rudder downwind. For the person at the helm, this is a balancing act that requires full attention. For Koldewey and his crew, who at the time were sailing the GRÖNLAND exclusively under sails, such and similar procedures are probably part of everyday life on board. Today, however, every trip on the GRÖNLAND is like the start of a new adventure. The next one is already waiting ...


Opening hours

Cog hall: daily from 10 am to 6 pm

Ships: daily 10 am to 5:45 pm

how to reach us

Deutsches Schifffahrtsmuseum
Hans-Scharoun-Platz 1
D-27568 Bremerhaven


T. +49 471 482 07 0

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