It was Saturday. The ship was loaded with coal and so we sailed underneath three dark clouds, wind gusts with rain and moderate audience participation on December 3, to Montevideo. The pilot did his job very well. We stopped for a short while in Bremerhaven at the Columbus pier. The splendid superliner “SS United States” was ahead of us, having been commissioned only 3 years before. It could carry 2000 passengers or as a troop transporter 15000 persons. Once the ship was on its first trip to Europe with an average speed of 35 Knots (*) winning the blue ribbon and was acknowledged to be the fastest ship on the North Atlantic.
(*) Remark: A nautical mile (nmi) equals 1‘852.2 km. One nautical mile per hour
is equal to 1 Knot.35 Knots (nmi/h) are approximately 65 kilometers per hour.
Now there were no less that 100 meters between us and she was supposed to leave harbor a few minutes after us. What crossed our captain’s mind next was not only to visit the captain of the “SS United States” but also to propose a deal to him, leaving us all speechless.
We found about it after we departed and sailed in the direction of the Weser estuary to the light tower “Roter Sand” .The deal was about nothing else than whoever arrived at the high Dover Jetty the fastest, should have the honor and the right to wear a blue bandana on his left suit sleeve with the name of the winning ship .This was crazy.. Our captain explained: „This will not be easy, but it is possible. It is a distance of around 600 nautical miles (1’100 km). We have the best west wind and because we only have half their draft, we can ideally use currents and tides, in some parts, we could use a speed of about seven nautical miles in one hour and we could make it. “kids” he continued disrespectful, the “SS United States” will roll hard because of less favorable waves and cannot steam at full speed if it does not want to make all its passengers seasick. We however, heeling to the side at 20-30 degrees in smooth water we can make top speed and more running over 20 knots and together with the ocean currents we could reach almost 50 kilometers per hour.” Said and done. Who would refuse such a challenge?
Up to the Roter Sand tower, everything was lashed, cleaned up, repaired and brought under control. Now, as we got to the light tower in the Weser estuary, the competitor was nowhere to be seen. The captain wanted to sail further on but we protested because of great sailing conditions expected for the next 24 hours so he told us, in which we would easily be able to regain the three hours waiting time lost before sailing on. After 120 minutes we saw two smoking chimneys on the southern horizon.
We set the first set of sails, then the second one and the third and as the “SS United States” steamed at starboard beam, all the sails we had were set. The Captains nodded at each another. The race started. The sea was rough. The competitor rolled and stamped. One hour we sailed abreast, and then continued heading east toward the Dutch coast. We were fast alone as the night dawned. The wind was howling with 7-8 Beaufort speed.
The captain and the officers were in continuous consultation and we, the deck staff, froze and chattered tugging ropes and turning winches, which made us forget about the cold. If at all then only really fast, you could get a hot tea or a broth from the cook or the cook mate, and then be right back to improve the status of the sails.
Speed, speed was the word of the hour. It was managed .We were in top shape. It was like a dream. Time passed fast. But would it be enough? Who would show up first near Dover at daybreak? At 5 pm we have directed our course toward southern England. The wind and the current allowed us to reach 35 to 50 km per hour. In just two hours, at the onset of daylight, we would know who had the bigger chance to pass Dover first in the early afternoon. At 9am everything seemed to go wrong. SHE was in front of us 2 to 3 nautical miles ahead and only four hours left to Dover. We trimmed everything again, but the gap remained.
But suddenly, without batting an eye, we had passed and “SS United States” which fell behind. One of their four turbines had to shut down for three hours, the captain signaled us together with congratulations for winning the “Blue Ribbon of the North Sea” and for having sailed with bravery.
Our captain praised us, the deck boys, implicating that now half the team were off-duty for 4 hours while the others would take advantage of favorable winds with ongoing full commitment. He would get the ribbon with the name PAMIR in South America or in Hamburg.