On December 14, 1907, a large sailboat was wrecked off the coast of Annette in the Isles of Scilly, killing almost all of the crew and causing the world’s first major oil spill at sea. Thomas W. Lawson’s wrecked ship was an incredible vessel.
Thomas W. Lawson was the world’s largest sailing ship, that is, a ship without an auxiliary engine, and the only seven-masted schooner. She was built by the eponymous copper baron Thomas W. Lawson for the sole purpose of showing the world that a sail could still be competitive in the age of steam.
I also advise you to read a historical essay on the sailing ships of the world in a separate article.
Launched on July 10, 1902, the Thomas W. Lawson was 144 meters long and had seven masts almost 60 meters high each. There were 25 sails on board, the total area of the canvas was 13,100 square meters. It had 5,218 gross register tons, a carrying capacity of 11,000 tons, and was manned by a crew of 18, whereas a steamer of the same size would require up to fifty sailors. This became possible because the work of sailors was facilitated by various mechanisms. The schooner did not have an engine, but was equipped with a steam steering engine, steam winches, an electrical system, and even a telephone network.
With a full load, the draft of Thomas W. Lawson was 9 meters. It is curious that at that time there was only one port in the United States capable of receiving such deep-sea vessels — Newport News in Virginia. As a result, her carrying capacity was reduced to 7,400 tons in order to accommodate her in more ports. Even with a reduced load, the Thomas W. Lawson was so large that it was difficult to maneuver and was slow, had a tendency to yaw, and needed strong winds to keep her course. Sailors compared the ship to a bathtub, or a whale washed ashore.
The Lawson was originally intended to lay coal routes on the east coast of America. But at the beginning of the 20th century, there was a strong demand for oil, so the sailboat was sold to Anglo-American Oil Co, and at the Newport News & Drydock shipyard in 1906 she was converted into an oil tanker with a capacity of 60,000 barrels, which makes her one of the largest tankers afloat in that time.
Interesting article: The history of the oldest sailing ship in the world — USS Constitution
On November 19, 1907, Lawson sailed from the Marcus Hook refinery piers 20 miles south of Philadelphia for London on her first transatlantic crossing with 58,000 barrels of light paraffin oil. During the voyage, Lawson encountered several storms that destroyed all but one lifeboat and most of her sails. Despite the damage, the schooner reached the Celtic Sea northwest of the Isles of Scilly. On December 13, she entered the English Channel in the hope of weathering the storm. Captain George Washington Doe, confident that the ship would survive the storm, categorically refused the help of the two nearest ships.
Charlotte Dorrien-Smith recalled: “The captain did not give distress signals and said that he did not consider himself in danger. With his tackle, he could have weathered any storm on the American coast, but, alas, not here.”
The next night, the wind reached 90 miles per hour and broke the ship’s anchor chain. Left to the mercy of fate by the raging sea, the schooner crashed on a rocky shore near Annette and capsized. In the morning light, the ship’s upturned keel could be seen near the reef from which the wreck had slid into deeper water. A thick layer of oil products from the hold of the ship accumulated on the surface. Of the 18 people on board, only two survived the sinking—Captain George W. Doe and Engineer Edward L. Rowe. All whose bodies were found were buried in a mass grave in the cemetery of St. Agnes.
See also: The most picturesque shipwrecks
The broken and scattered remains of the Thomas W. Lawson now lie northeast of Shag Rock at a depth of 20 meters and can be visited by scuba divers in calm weather conditions. One of the anchors is now built into the outer wall of Bleak House on Broadstairs, the former home of Charles Dickens.
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