Thursday, January 27, 2011

A Multinational Ship

One of the remarkable things about the ‘Success’ is that she was a genuinely “multinational’ ship. Built in present-day Myanmar (then British India, later Burma), she held British registry for 12 years, until sold to the government of the newly formed state of Victoria, Australia. She remained government property for 38 years, until sold at auction to private interests in 1890.

She was presumably registered in Australia until she departed those waters permanently in 1895, returning ‘home,’ as it were, to England. In the course of the next 16 years she rounded Great Britain three times. The issue of nationality did not arise until she sailed to the United States in 1912. In order to avoid paying local taxes and fees, David Smith, who managed the vessel during her tour of exhibition in America, argued to local authorities that she was a ‘foreign vessel’ and therefore not subject to local taxation. In support of his contention he produced a letter from the British Board of Trade stating that they classified her as a ‘British yacht.’ It was a rather tenuous argument, and yet Smith succeeded in getting a few U.S. attorneys to write letters supporting his contention, and for years managed to avoid those higher fees. As the years passed and her U.S. ownership became more clearly evident, it became harder for Smith and his successors to avoid the higher fees.

During her long, remarkable career, the ‘Success’ transported British goods, carried indentured servants from India to the West Indies and English, Irish and Scottish emigrants from England to Australia, and housed convicts from many countries. ‘Born’ in British India and launched into salt water, she met her end in fresh water half a world away.

The ‘Success’ was indeed a multinational ship.

Welcome to the Sailing Ship Success

I have created this blog to accompany my website dedicated to the life and legend of the sailing ship Success, one of the most remarkable ships ever to roam the waters of the earth. Along the way I hope to generate lively discussions and even debates about the ship and the times in which she lived.

As I write this I am peering out over the waters of Lake Erie toward the site where, over 64 years ago, the Success was consumed by fire. It was a bright, sunny 4th of July and the highway was clogged with tourists. Besides the usual holiday revelry there was a new spirit of hope in the air. WWII was over and our boys were home again - those that made it home. Anyone who happened to be close to the lake toward the east end of Port Clinton, Ohio on that afternoon was treated to an unexpected early fireworks display offshore. According to witnesses, a plume of thick black smoke rose amidships. Soon, fanned by a stiff afternoon lake breeze, the fire spread from stem to stern and soon engulfed the entire ship. Drawn to the blaze like moths to a flame, boats of all shapes and sized began circling the ship. The dry wood hissed and popped. The lone remaining mast toppled into the water. No part of the ship was left untouched by the raging inferno, which continued into the night. The next day there was nothing left but the ribs of the ship rising from the water like a skeleton. Tendrils of smoke rose from the dying embers. Pieces of charred wood floated all around. Many would drink ashore, to be gathered up later by trophy seekers. Divers visited the wreck often, taking anything they could. Water-soaked beams of teak, too heavy to float, or prison cell doors, were taken to make souvenirs. Hundred of tons of stone, some pieces squared off into blocks, covered the long, massive teak keel -- ballast that kept the old ship upright in the water. Many years later, protection would come by way of an Ohio law forbidding the ransacking of shipwrecks, but for some the shallowness of the water is too tempting. The muddy bottom reduces visibility to a few inches, so she is not all that popular with wreck divers or underwater photographers.

The Success is gone but remembered still.