Let’s take a look at some of the world’s most impressive tall ships.
There are over 100 tall ships currently in operation around the world, and many more throughout history that were lost or destroyed. While all of these ships are doubtless magnificent in their own way, some are objectively impressive for their length, height, rigging, or other features. Let’s take a look at some of the world’s most fascinating tall ships, both current and historic.
Largest Tall Ships
Calculating the largest tall ship is not as straightforward as you might think, and the question “what is the largest tall ship?” doesn’t have a single definitive answer. So rather than attempt to answer the question, let’s instead take a look at some ships that set records based on a few different criteria.
The six-masted schooner Wyoming is the longest confirmed wooden ship ever made. Her “total length” (LOA) measured 140 m (450 ft) from the tip of the jib boom to the tip of the spanker boom. Her beam, or width, was 15.3 m, or 50 ft. She was an American-built ship, completed and launched in Maine in 1909, and she operated primarily as a charter vessel and coal transport.
Tragically, in 1924 she foundered in heavy seas off the coast of Nantucket, and the entire 14 man crew was lost. The wreck was discovered by American Underwater Search and Survey Ltd. in 2003.
2. Royal Clipper
This modern fully-rigged tall ship is used as a cruise ship. She has five masts and a steel hull, a total length of 134.8 m (439 ft), and a beam of 16.5 m (54 ft.) Royal Clipper is active today, cruising the Mediterranean in the summer and the Caribbean in the winter. She holds the Guinness World Record for the largest square-rigged ship still in service – but surprisingly she can be sailed by a crew as small as twenty because her sails are operated using powered controls.
Royal Clipper was launched in 2000, and is only the second five-masted full-rigged ship ever built. Prior to her launch, the only ship like her to sail the seven seas was the Preussen, a German windjammer launched in 1902 and used to trade saltpeter with Chile.
3. Thomas W. Lawson
Although not the longest or overall largest ship on the list, the Thomas W. Lawson deserves a mention as the tall ship with the most masts. This schooner had an impressive 7 masts, which were typically rigged with 25 sails – 7 mainsails, 7 topsails, 6 staysails, and 5 foresails, for a total sail area of 4,330m2 (46,617 sq ft.) When she was launched in 1902, she was the largest sailing vessel without an auxiliary engine ever built.
The Thomas W. Lawson was destroyed in a storm off the Isles of Sicily in 1907, killing nearly all of her 18 crew. The wreck is credited with causing the first major oil spill, as her cargo of 58,000 barrels of paraffin oil spilled into the ocean during the wreck.
Most Luxurious Tall Ships
While many tall ships throughout history were built for utilitarian purposes – primarily transporting cargo or performing military services – some were built as passenger vehicles, and many modern tall ships were built specifically to provide high-paying customers with luxurious ocean travel experiences.
1. Royal Clipper
Once again, Royal Clipper must be mentioned, because not only is she the largest square-rigged ship still in operation, she is also one of the most luxurious. Built in 2000 and operated by Star Clippers, she is a high-tech recreation of a classic clipper, boasting state-of-the-art navigation equipment and sail controls.
Her beautiful teak decks boast extensive space for sunbathing, an outdoor bar, and three swimming pools. Passengers cruising to either the Mediterranean or Caribbean can indulge in any number of luxurious activities, including Thai massage, fine dining, or taking in a concert in the piano lounge.
2. Mary Anne
This square-rigged barquentine may not boast the amenities of Royal Clipper – she doesn’t have any swimming pools and you can’t get a Thai massage on board – but she offers one thing Royal Clipper can’t: exclusivity. Originally designed to carry only 28 passengers, her operating company Steppes Travel has decreased that number to just 16 to ensure that every person on board has plenty of personal space.
Mary Anne was launched in 1997, and sails exclusively in the Galapagos islands, offering passengers the unique opportunity to explore one of the most spectacular wildlife locations on the planet in total luxury. Though smaller than other boats on the list, she nevertheless boasts a beautiful lounge and bar area, an outside dining area, and a lovely sun deck.
3. Sea Cloud
This retrofitted windjammer is operated by Sea Cloud Cruises, and is the only historical ship on the luxury list. She was launched in 1931 as a private yacht, and is now the world’s oldest ocean-going passenger ship.
Sea Cloud sails in the Caribbean, and offers passengers the chance to step back in time as they enjoy her opulence – marble fireplaces, gold fixtures and antique, period-style furnishings. She is still crewed by hand, so passengers can get a kick watching the crew scrambling up and down her masts. A covered bar, lounge, and open bridge offer passengers sumptuous space to relax, and the dining room serves local cuisine and excellent wine.
Tall Ships With the Most Fascinating Stories
1. Mary Celeste
The brigantine Mary Celeste was originally named Amazon, and was launched in Nova Scotia by the British in 1861. She was renamed in 1868, and she operated as a cargo ship for four years, until in 1872 she was discovered adrift at sea. Her condition when found was seaworthy, her cargo was intact and the crew’s personal belongings were undisturbed…but her entire crew had mysteriously vanished and nobody on board was ever heard from again.
No one has been able to say for sure what happened during that voyage. Theories over the years have included everything from submarine earthquakes, to mutiny, to a giant squid attack, to alien abduction.
After her discovery, she returned to service under new owners, but in 1885 her captain deliberately shipwrecked her off the coast of Haiti as an attempt at insurance fraud. The name Mary Celeste has become synonymous with unexplained disappearance, and many novels, plays, and films have been made about her 1872 voyage.
2. Sea Cloud
Once again, we must talk about Sea Cloud, simply because her longevity and list of reinventions are so impressive. Although she was initially launched almost 100 years ago as a private yacht, she has since served as a weather ship for the US Coast Guard, a warship for the US Navy, a personal yacht for the president of the Dominican Republic, and as a luxury cruise ship.
When she was initially offered to the US Navy during WWII, President Roosevelt turned the offer down, saying she was too beautiful to be sacrificed. However, later the Navy reassessed its position, and she went on to become the first racially integrated military warship since the Civil War. She was captained by Lieutenant Carlton Skinner, who witnessed a black man save the crew of the ship Northland but still be denied a promotion. Skinner proposed allowing a fully integrated crew to serve aboard his ship, and eventually proved that an integrated crew could perform just as, or more, efficiently than a segregated crew.
After the war, she was refitted as a civilian vessel and sold to the president of the Dominican Republic, under the name Angelita. In 1961, following his assassination, the president’s family tried to smuggle themselves to the Canary Islands aboard her, but were caught. After a brief stint as an educational vessel in Italy, under the name Patria, she was sold to Sea Cloud Cruises, where she now operates as a luxury sailing vessel.
3. Lady Washington
The name Lady Washington refers to at least four merchant vessels, during two separate time periods. The original Lady Washington was an American vessel who harassed British shipping vessels during the Revolutionary War. An updated replica was built in 1989, and operates primarily as an educational vessel – and movie star!
The Lady Washington is probably the ship that most people think of when they imagine a historical sailing vessel. This is because she has appeared in so many movies and TV shows. She appeared as HMS Interceptor in the film Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl, as the brig Enterprise in the film Star Trek Generations, as the main ship in the miniseries Blackbeard and as Captain Hook’s ship Jolly Roger in the TV series Once Upon a Time.
These are just a few of the most impressive and fascinating tall ships that have been built throughout history – there are many other beautiful ships that were not included. We invite you to do your own research or let us know what we missed! What are some of your favorite ships? What are some other categories you’d like to see us write about?