The “legendary” Moshulu is indeed the world’s oldest and largest square rigged sailing vessel still afloat. Built by William Hamilton & Co., Port Glasgow, Scotland in 1904 for the G.J.H Siemers Co. of Hamburg, Germany as the four masted barque Kurt. This “state-of-the-art” sailing ship was the finest and latest of man’s achievement in the world’s shipbuilding industry for the construction of bulk or packaged cargo sailing ships.
With her impressive dimensions of 359 ft. in length (on deck), 47 ft. in breadth and of 3,116 gross tons, the Moshulu ex Kurt began her colorful career carrying coal to Chilean ports (via Cape Horn) and returning to Hamburg with some 5,000 long tons of nitrate followed by several voyages laden with coke and patent fuel to Santa Rosalia, Baha California, again returning with a full cargo of nitrate. With 34 sails equaling 45,000 sq. ft., the Moshulu’s route to Australia took her around Cape Horn a remarkable 54 times without incident, with a crew compliment of 35 men maximum .
In 1912, her routes changed to carrying coal from Newcastle, Australia to Chilean ports and again bringing the valuable nitrate to Germany. On her last voyage under the Siemers Co., she discharged coke and fuel at Santa Rosalia, then sailed for Astoria, Oregon for orders intending to sail from Portland with grain when the voyage was interrupted by World War I in 1917. In an American Port, The U.S. Navy confiscated the Ship as prize booty and kept her in commission, temporarily named Dreadnaught meaning “fearless” after the famous clipper ships of the time.
Re-named the Moshulu by Mrs. Woodrow Wilson (of Indian extraction herself) to honor the native American (Senaca Indian Tribe) meaning “One who Fears Nothing” and now under the American flag, the refurbished barque loaded 2,400,000 board feet of lumber for Sidney, Australia, returning to San Francisco with 16,867 bales of wool but not before out sailing a steam powered German raider while quelling a suspected mutiny among traitorous members of the crew. Following several successful voyages to Australia and the Philippines with steel, lumber and cased gasoline and returning with hemp, sugar, copra and coconut oil, the Moshulu was acquired by the lumber firm of The Charles Nelson Co., of San Francisco for $40,000 and sailed as a lumber carrier to and from South Africa and San Pedro, California until 1931 where she was laid up in Winslow, Bainbridge Island, Washington for four long colorless years due to the advent of the more economical steam carriers and the 1929 decline of the lumber trade.
Another saving grace was the purchase of Moshulu in 1935 for $12,000 by Gustaf Erickson of Finland. He was a successful ship owner of 25 vessels, 11 (4) masted barque windjammers, who had found profits in transporting grain from Australia in a fleet of iron and steel sailing ships, which included Moshulu, Herzogin Cecilie, Archibald Russel, Pamir, Parma, Pomern, Killoran, Winterhude, Olivebank and others that became famous as the “grain race” barques of the mid and late thirties. The third and last grain race of 1939 was won by the Moshulu carrying 59,000 bags of grain, weighing 4875 tons with a record speed of 16 knots in 91 days (15,000 miles) from Australia to Ireland via Cape Horn, under the Command of Mstr Captain Gunnar Boman with a crew of 33. The crewincluded two Americans, J. Ferrell Colton of Molokai, Hawaii, the publisher of “Windjammer Significant” and John W. Albright of Long Beach, California who would become a square rigged ship Captain himself. The first ship home would fetch the best price for their aussie gold.
The outbreak of World War II in all its fury on September 3, 1939 immediately effected Captain Erickson and his beautiful fleet, when most of the gallant ships were laid up except for one final grain voyage for the Moshulu. From Buenos Aires to Norway, this was her last trip and pay load under sail as a Finnish Ship. In November 1942, as the ship lay in Kristiansand Norway, a nation occupied by Nazi forces, the German troops confiscated Moshulu and stripped her masts and spars. Another barque of Erickson’s, the Olivebank was sunk in a German minefield with Captain and 13 crew.
Through the “roaring” 40’s and early 50’s, she experienced a rather sad variety of incidents. Shorn of masts and rig, these being destroyed by a bombardment, She broke her moorings, capsized in a gale near a beach close to shore off Narvik in 1947, only to be refloated and put into early retirement, ending with her purchase by the Finnish State Grainery in 1961 for 3,200 tons of Russian rye, to become a grain storage hulk in Finland.
It was at the small and picturesque bay of Natali, Finland that Capt. Raymond E Wallace found her as a storage hulk deeply laden with grain. Attracting the interest of David Tallichet of Specialty Restaurants Corp., who purchased the Moshulu and restored it, destined to become a museum-restaurant . Wallace contracted with a small yard in Scheveningen, Holland to fabricate masts, yards and standing rigging which were machine, not hand welded with lighter materials and had the ship towed to South Sea Seaport in New York. With the acquisition of the great barque Peking by South Street Seaport, Moshulu was moved in 1974 to Penn’s Landing in Philadelphia to fulfill her new role as a restaurant.
In 1975, the Moshulu opened as a restaurant in Philadelphia, but after being damaged by a four-alarm fire she closed in 1989. In 1994, the Moshulu was purchased by HMS Ventures, Inc.; and under Mrs. Dodo Hamilton of the Cambell’s Soup family, Moshulu was painstakingly restored in Camden to original glory and in 1996 opened as a restaurant on the Delaware River, docked at Pier 34 on Philadelphia’s waterfront. In 2002 the Moshulu was relocated to its current location and opened its doors to the world in May of 2003 with its new owners, SCC Restaurants, LLC again as an award winner, securing a AAA 4 Diamond rated, Restaurant, Bar and Deck dining experience in Philadelphia.