This is an article about our trip on a fantastic ship. Margret wrote it shortly after the trip, but waited to see if it was to be published anywhere else, before putting it here!

If they are not marked as © and belonging to someone else, the pictures are ours!

A wonderful day and a great piece of History

On the 23rd of July 2003 we were part of a wonderful adventure while on holiday in Germany. We sailed from the little harbour town of Glückstadt on the River Elbe to Cuxhaven.
You might ask: What was so special about that? People sail from one port to another every day!
Well the answer is: We sailed on the world’s largest light vessel.

Pictures © Iris Klempau

ELBE 1 or "Bürgermeister O'Swald (II)" is a beautiful piece of maritime history lovingly restored and maintained by a dedicated group of volunteers.

She belongs to town of Cuxhaven and is given to “Feuerschiff-Verein ELBE 1 von 2001 e.v. Cuxhaven” (group of volunteers) for restoration, maintenance and to show her. She is a working museum ship, has her seaworthiness certificates and spends some of her time taking visitors on trips.

You can explore the ship with the help of a booklet-guide and at the end of your tour, if you are lucky (and we were) you get tested on what you learnt. If you answer enough of the questions correctly, you get a certificate with the ship’s board stamp.

At the time we ‘met’ the old lady, the ship had been part of the Glückstadt Matjeswoche Festival and was now being taken back to her homeport of Cuxhaven. We, together with our friends Iris and Dirk, had been lucky enough to be invited on board for this trip.

What a chance! A trip on a light vessel!

Elbe 1 was tied up right next to the Glückstadt North Mole Lighthouse (B1476) when we joined her. We were to sail past the lighthouse into the river and then towards the North Sea and Cuxhaven.

Pictures © Iris Klempau

Before the ship sailed, we got a wonderful personal tour round this historic monument. Herr Otto Prieß had been the ship’s carpenter for a large part of his working life and there is not much he does not know about the ship.

Knowledge and enthusiasm in the engine room (above) and on the bridge (right)

We spent a wonderful hour listening to his information and anecdotes and learnt a great deal about the ship and her crew. He took us to cabins, galley, crew and wardrooms as well as the engine room and of course the bridge as well as the old carpenter’s workshop and the winches for the chains. It was absolutely fascinating!

It is amazing what this ship has survived. She is the most rammed light vessel in the world and survived 50 collisions. The worst of which in 1970 when the Argentinean freighter "Rio Carcarano" rammed the light vessel – or to quote the old ship’s carpenter „parked her over 8000 tons right here in the engine room“.

The ship stayed afloat with the help of others and seven months later after a repairs costing 1.6 million Deutschmark she was back on station.

We were shown the innovative anchor chain system, which allows the chain to be severed very easily and quickly, should the need arise. It is impressive that a ship of this size can be held in place by a 3t mushroom anchor and 245 meters of chain.

We were shown the way the ship’s vents can be made water tight. When Her Prieß asked if we knew that ship could be a submarine, we thought he was joking. But he showed us how the vents etc. could all be closed off using electric motors, so the ship could sink, but still not get totally flooded. That must have been a huge comfort to her crew.

We saw the powerful engine (650 hp), which provide enough power to give the ship a speed of 10 knots. Which is a very respectable speed!

Our guide explained that the main fuel tank was in the double floor – in the same space as the sea water trim and ballast tanks. The low storage of the liquids adds to the stability of the ship. We learnt that the ship was capable of cleaning all waste water and soil water, so the waste pumped to sea is 90% clean.

The radio room was next and then the officer’s mess. Today the ship is used for weddings and the official ceremony takes place in this mess. The crew’s quarters looked really small. And then we came to the old carpenter’s workroom until 1953, when the carpenter’s job was axed. This had been Otto Prieß’s domain and he told us how the ships crew used to meet there in their spare time to make all manner of small things.

You can still see the outer skin of the ship. Very clearly you can see the rivets. The room is below the water line and we started to imagine how very cold it must have been in the winter.

And finally we were welcomed on the bridge. It is amazing how the bridge is equipped with all the modern technology required to obtain the seaworthiness certificates. But it still feels traditional and historic.

What a wonderful tour of a great old ship.

Herr Prieß was full of knowledge about the ship and you could tell how he loves the old girl!
We were very grateful for the privilege of this very special tour!

After this wonderful tour round the ship, we were invited to have lunch in the crew’s canteen. Herman Lohse, who is the current chairman of the group of volunteers looking after the ship, is the ships cook and produced a wonderful lunch for us.

Pictures © Iris Klempau

Herman Lohse (above)

Stan, Margret and Dirk enjoying lunch (Left)

Very soon we heard the engines start and the crew was getting the ship ready to get under way. The sound of the engines drove us on deck.

We spent a wonderful afternoon watching the lighthouses along the River Elbe drift by. The vantage point from just above the bridge was great. And all too soon we reached Cuxhaven.

Captain Henry Marschlewski took the ship through the lock into the harbour and all that was left to do was to say a huge THANK YOU to him and his crew for an unforgettable afternoon!

For further information:
Museum ship Elbe 1 in Cuxhaven
Elbe 1 Homepage
Iris' Lightship Pages

See more of our reports of places we visited

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