German barquentine Adolf Vinnen is considered to be the last great wreck of a sailing ship on the coast of Cornwall. Built a few months before it was destroyed, the 80-metre long five-mast ship was one of the five Vinnen sisters – identical ships built by Krupps around 1921-1922 for F A Vinnen of Bremen. The ship met its doom 100 years ago, after being driven ashore at Bass Point in a gale.
The ship had just been launched out of the shipyards in Germany, with the yard number 420, when she was smashed up onto the rocks off the Lizard Peninsula. As newspaper reports of the day revealed, that fateful night on February 9, 1923, was one of gale force winds, lashing rains and heavy seas. The whole country was battered by storms that day leading several ships to run aground or be wrecks around the coast.
When the Adolf Vinnen left Bremen under the command of Captain Muller she was empty and heading to Barry in Wales to pick up a cargo of coal. The weather deteriorated dramatically as she sailed down the English Channel and by the time she reached the Lizard she was in trouble. The ship was being driven ashore by a strong south-westerly wind and heavy seas.
Propelled by sails and two 350 horsepower (260 kW) four-cylinder diesel engines. She was designed for a crew of 45 by Friedrich Krupp Germaniawerft, one of the largest and most important shipbuilding and armaments companies in Germany, producing hundreds of U-boats in Kiel during the First and Second World Wars.
As the Adolf Vinnen crashed onto rocks, onlookers from the cliff top above raised the alarm. At around 5pm the men at the Lloyd’s Signal Station also set off a rocket flare to call out the Lizard lifeboat. The weather conditions being so treacherous, the Lizard Lifeboat struggled to get near enough the stricken ship. Eventually a line was successfully passed from the shore using the Rocket Apparatus and the crew of 24 were safely rescued.
The 1,849-tonne ship had been one of five Vinnen sisters, identical ships built for F A Vinnen of Bremen – a shipping company which still exists today.
According to the Divers Guide To the Shipwrecks off The Lizard, the wreck lies in 12 metres (39 ft) of water in between Bass Point and Hot Point. The guide says: “Her wreckage is right out of the tide, but subject to ground swell in south or south-east winds. She is in two main parts, with her frames and some of the hull standing clear of the rock-and-sand bottom in 12m, and the diesels and shafts still there.”
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