Historical story

Gorch Fock:The History of the Navy Training Ship

As the "white swan of the Baltic Sea", the "Gorch Fock" - the sail training ship of the German Navy - traveled the seven seas from 1959. The renovation of the three-masted barque became a debacle. Now the traditional sailing ship is back in its home port of Kiel.

On August 23, 1958, tens of thousands of guests followed the launch of the three-masted barque in the port of Hamburg. "Boben dat life steiht de Dod, but boben den Dod steiht wedder dat Leben" (Death is above life, but life is above death again) - with these Low German words the 14-year-old Ulli Kinau christened the first sail training ship of the German Navy in the name of her uncle Gorch Fock, the well-known seafaring poet.

Construction of the "Gorch Fock":Lessons learned from the sinking of the "Pamir"

On December 17, 1958, the "Gorch Fock" was put into service, and in 1959 she set sail on her first training voyage. Since then she has traveled hundreds of thousands of nautical miles and sailed all the world's seas. Around 300 tons of iron ballast in the hull give the ship particularly high stability at sea - theoretically up to 90 degrees of heel. This construction was also a consequence of the sinking of the "Pamir", in which 80 sailors lost their lives. The merchant marine sail training ship sank in an Atlantic hurricane in 1957.

"Gorch Fock" adorned a ten-mark note

From 1963 at the latest, the "Gorch Fock" was also known to all landlubbers:millions of times it adorned the back of the ten-mark note until the introduction of the euro. With its 23 sails and a total length of almost 90 meters, the barque is soon a welcome guest at port festivals such as the Hamburg Port Birthday or the Kiel Week in the home port of the training ship.

"Floating Ambassador"

The "Gorch Fock" is not only of great importance as a training ship:In the world she acts as Germany's "floating ambassador of peace" - in complete contrast to the initial fears of some Germans that the "Gorch Fock" would once again be a warship launched. For example, the ship traveled to Poland in 1974 as the first unit of the Bundeswehr after the Second World War and was a guest at the 200th anniversary of American independence in New York in 1976. She is regularly open to visitors in the ports on her training trips and many politicians also use the sail training ship as a representative place for diplomatic meetings.

Hardly any comfort on board

The technical equipment of the training ship, whose crew of 223 has included women since 1989, has been modernized several times. Nevertheless, there can be no question of comfort on board, there is hardly any privacy. In the twelve square meter dormitories, 30 people sleep in hammocks next to and above each other. Extreme weather conditions with storms and high waves as well as long night watches on deck or strenuous exercises are part of everyday life on the "Gorch Fock".

Death of cadet sparks controversy

For decades, the ship has been the pride of the German Navy. But then two momentous accidents occur. On September 3, 2008, 18-year-old cadet Jenny Böken fell overboard and died. In November 2010, 25-year-old cadet Sarah Lena Seele fell to her death from the rigging during a training trip.

The accident sparked heated debates about the conditions on board. The commander loses his post and the training trips are suspended. Only in November 2012 does the "Gorch Fock" set sail again with cadets on board under the new captain Helge Risch and with a modernized training concept. In June 2014, Commander Nils Brandt took over the command.

Heavy damage to the "Gorch Fock":costs explode

At the turn of the year 2015/16, the "Gorch Fock" comes to the Elsflether shipyard near Bremerhaven for inspection. Severe damage is found there. Initially, it is estimated that the renovation costs will be around ten million euros, but it is gradually becoming clear that the repairs will cost around 135 million euros. The shipyard files for bankruptcy. Nevertheless, the renovation continues, in June 2019 the hull is floating again. The Lürssen shipyard will take care of the rest of the work.

"Gorch Fock" is back in its home port of Kiel after six years of renovation

The "Gorck Fock" was undocked at the Berne shipyard on March 10, 2021 and transferred to the Lemwerder site, where the final work on the interior fittings was carried out. The three-master also got its sails back. A first test drive after moving to Wilhelmshaven at the beginning of September had to be canceled due to a defective valve in the engine, but was successfully repeated a week later after the repairs were made. Finally, on September 30th, the Navy officially got the sail training ship back. The refurbishment of the "Gorch Fock" lasted around six years before the sail training ship returned to its home port of Kiel. Training trips can now take place again.

Ship data of the "Gorch Fock"

Ship type :Bark
Launched/Christened :1958
Shipyard :Blohm + Voss, Hamburg
Owner :German Navy
Homeport :Keel
Length (across bowsprit) :89.32 meters
width :12 meters
height :Jib and main mast each 45 meters, mizzen mast:40 meters
Draft :5.5 meters
Number of sails :23
Sail area :a good 2,000 square meters
Top speed :18.2 knots (34 km/h), with an auxiliary engine (1,690 hp) around 13.7 knots
Figurehead :a stylized albatross (in 2003 the original wooden figure was replaced by a plastic one)