TANGO ROUND THE HORN,
The Story of the Last US Sailing Ship Around Cape Horn.
Larry Barber. 1989.
(Barber was a marine reporter for the Oregonian from 1938 to 1962.)
254 pages & 35 Illustrations.
Published by the Oregon Maritime Center and Museum.
"The sailing ship era ended on the US west coast in the 1920s, but windjammers returned to action after WW II began in Europe, driven by the demand for lumber for the mines in South Africa. A handful of neglected sailing ships were saved from the scrap yard, over-loaded with lumber, and sent out with crews of young Americans who were completely unprepared for the hazardous voyage that lay ahead.
In the 1990s, there were still a few old sailors alive who had shipped out under sail at that time and could remember when the need for work, any kind of work, drove them to sign on for a long voyage under harsh conditions. The last American-flagged sailing ship to depart the Columbia River and around Cape Horn was called the TANGO, and her history was preserved by a remarkable local writer, Larry Barber, who was by then in his late 80s.
The book about the ship is called Tango Around the Horn––the WW II voyage of America's last windjammer from the Columbia River to South Africa. The fascinating history of the 396' German bark HANS that was interned in Mexico 1914-21, turned into a gambling barge anchored in Santa Monica Bay 1935-39, then finally re-rigged as a six-masted lumber schooner in 1941.
Luckily, the early years of the TANGO had been preserved by two authors who were captains under sail and understood the importance of preserving the history of one of the last, great sailing ships. The TANGO began life in 1904 in the yard of William Hamilton & Co, Port Glasgow, Scotland as the HANS. By this time, European shipbuilders had perfected the construction of steel sailing ships, six of which are still afloat in the US. The HANS and her sister ship the KURT were completed to the highest classification of Germanischer Lloyd. The cost was about $2 million each. They were the last sailing vessels Hamiltons launched before turning exclusively to steamers.
When WW I began, the HANS was interned in Santa Rosalia, Baja, Mexico, where a whole fleet of German ships was waiting to load copper ore. Life for the sailors was hard. Captain Harold Huycke of Edmonds, an expert on this period and the author of the definitive book To Santa Rosalia, Further and Back, quoted able seaman Alvin Arlom about those years: 'Maggots! We soaked our hardtack in the evening and in the morning you fished out the maggots. You took a little lard and you covered up the holes so you wouldn't see where the maggots were. Then we had the hardtack like a horseshoe. I don't know if it was rye or whatever but I hated them; they were bitter. The had a weevil or something in them––not a maggot. Yes, that was rough.'
After 61/2 years of idleness, the HANS was moved into the hands of the first of seven more owners––Captain Robert Dollar, who had acquired the entire fleet for a bid of $350,000.
There was a brief flurry of activity in 1927, which emptied Dollar's moorage. When he died in 1932 his family sold off the HANS. But these were the Depression years and there were no takers. They offered it as a gift to the State of Washington as a school ship––it was turned down. Finally, a Captain Charles Watts of Berkeley took it off their hands, reputedly for $3,500. He soon turned the ship around and sold it to a Nevada gambling syndicate.
It was towed to Wilmington, CA where the towering masts were lifted out and scrapped. The deck was cleared and an imposing, warehouse-like building, 280' x 60', was erected. Strings of lights were hung around the ship to create a festive atmosphere. The TANGO was ready to begin its new career as an offshore gambling ship. The single cabin, almost a hundred yards long, was soon filled with gamblers. In 1939, the courts re-drew the three-mile limit and the gambling days were over.
Some east coast investors, incorporated as the Transatlantic Navigation Co and bought the TANGO for $25,000 after a quick inspection. The big gambling house was torn off, 2,500 tons of ballast removed from the bilges. The ship was hauled at the LA Shipbuilding drydock 4 Sept 1941. It had been afloat for 27 years and some 40 tons of barnacles were scaped off. the TANGO became a six-masted schooner.
Larry Barber had visited and reported on the TANGO for the Oregonian. For the next 40 years, Larry had assumed the subject was closed. Then in 1985, he learned that two of the crew were still alive, and living nearby. He met with them, heard their stories and resolved to turn this material into a book. Larry ultimately succeeded, and the book was published by the Oregon Maritime Center and Museum in 1989.
Watching the TANGO raise sail and disappear over the western horizon made a powerful impression on Barber, and he never forgot this episode. He was also not one to give up on a story and he wrote short pieces for his newspaper in 1954 and 1975. He tells of a motley crew, a shifting deck cargo, a fire in the hold, and a sail to Portugal made undertow, and her last journey to the breakers in 1948."
This is an abridged version of 8 pages of a review courtesy of P. Marsh, "Marsh's Maritime Musings; Sea Stories, Travel Tales and Opinions from the mouth of the Columbia."