About the History of Steamship SCHAARHÖRN

The legends about the steamship SCHAARHÖRN tell us she was built as Hamburg's state yacht, carrying the German Emperor William II. The fact is that in 1908 the Hamburg Port Authority built a seagoing sounding vessel with two propellers. In those days the Hamburg Port Authority was also responsible for the excavation of the river Elbe, which links Hamburg to the North Sea over a distance of about 100 km. The SCHAARHÖRN was to continuously measure the depth of the Elbe, particularly in its estuary. This was the official reason for building the ship given to the Hamburg parliament, which had to appropriate the needed 220.000 Goldmarks. But the beautiful vessel, which was built at a Hamburg shipyard obviously served for more purposes than just surveying. 

On its quarter-deck the SCHAARHÖRN had a spacious saloon with polished tables, leather chairs and sofas. Ten large windows in brass frames opened the view over river and sea. Walls and ceilings were made of pale oak. Through a big stained glass skylight the light shone on Art Nouveau furniture of quality and distinction. 

The technical equipment was up to the highest standards for a ship of that size. Two 412 hp triple-expansion steam engines allowed a cruising speed of 12.5 knots. The elegant white vessel had a permanent crew of eight. 

It has been impossible to determine the extent to which the SCHAARHÖRN was used as yacht by the Hamburg Senate, the government of the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg, or if the German Emperor William II ever was on board, although the SCHAARHÖRN was on stand-by on the occasion of the imperial visit to Hamburg. Definitly, the SCHAARHÖRN was used as a surveying ship part of the year and idle during the rest. The SCHAARHÖRN had never been a state yacht in the strict sense, although among Hamburg's ships she was the one best suited for representative purposes. 

During World War I the SCHAARHÖRN was under the command of the German Navy, as guide vessel of a minesweeper sub-division stationed at the port of Cuxhaven. After the war, the SCHAARHÖRN was in the hands of the revolutionary council of workers and soldiers for a short while, and then decommissioned. In the hard years after the war there was no need for a representative ship. 

Only in 1925, when shipping and port activities had recovered, the SCHAARHÖRN took up service again. Stationed at Cuxhaven, she was used as a surveying ship. And she was modernized: The gold- framed emblem of Hamburg at the stem was removed, the old-fashioned way of spelling her name SCHAARHÖRN was changed to SCHARHÖRN. New staircases were put in and steel masts replaced the old wooden ones; the narrow bridge was doubled in length. In 1933, the first echo-sounder was installed. Until then the depth had been fathomed by hand. 

World War II in the beginning did not do much to change the monotonous life on board. Only at the end of the war, the SCHAARHÖRN was used to carry refugees from the Baltic ports of Stolpmünde and Gdansk. In this operation many refugee ships were sunk, but luckily the SCHAARHÖRN was spared. 

A few years later, the SCHAARHÖRN returned to her former job in the Elbe estuary. The first radio was installed in 1955, radar in 1959, and even a highly sophisticated position finder in 1969, but downstairs coal was still shovelled under the boiler by hand, as in the old days. 

Countless times the beautiful white ship had steamed up and down the Elbe, her funnel and masts elegantly tilting backwards, a familiar sight on the river. She bore her title "Swan of the Elbe" with pride. 

In 1972, the SCHAARHÖRN was de-commissioned. The price of coal had increased sharply, and so had the stokers' wages. Diesel fuel, on the other hand, was cheap and plentiful. Citizens of Cuxhaven then undertook to maintain the ship. But when the initial enthusiasm had subsided, rust began to eat away hull and superstructure. The first souvenir hunters started to pick bits. 

In those days, a Scottish millionaire appeared on the scene, bought the old steamer, and patched her up for her most adventurous voyage ever. Going to England, the SCHAARHÖRN got into bad weather. Waves were fife meters high, sea water flooded the engine-room, coal ran low. After 75 hours, the English coast was finally reached. In two more turns, the SCHAARHÖRN was hauled to the small Scottish port of Buckie, where the voyage ended. Well-kept at the beginning, the SCHAARHÖRN then gradually rotted away in a remote corner of the port. Vandals destroyed the furniture. Thieves took away everything they could carry. In 1979, the SCHAARHÖRN in her pityful state was purchased by two steamer freaks, who repaired her so she could be taken to the Scottish west coast where she was laid up again for some years. There was not enough money for thorough restoration, but at least the decay had been stopped. 

In 1989 the partnership went bancrupt. At the same time, the SCHAARHÖRN came to the attention of "Jugend in Arbeit Hamburg e.V." (Work for Youths Association"). The association, under the auspices of the Hamburg Chamber of Commerce, is engaged in the professional trainig of young people and its projects also include ships. With funds of the "Commerz-Collegium zu Altona", a traditional association of businesspeople in the Hamburg district of Altona, the SCHAARHÖRN was bought and, on bord a dock-ship, returned to Hamburg. The hull would not have stood another voyage. 

The restauration of the SCHAARHÖRN took about 5 years. After the removal of all installations, the hull, the decks and superstructure were thoroughly repaired. Parts of the hull, particularly around the bunkers and under the boiler had to be completely replaced. Both engines werde taken out, repaired and carefully put in again, as was all other technical equipment. The fragments left of the old furniture were supplemented by replicas. 

The aim was to restore the SCHAARHÖRN to her original state. Today, the complete propulsion unit, from coal-heated boiler to the shafts, as it was in 1908, except for the steam generator (in 1927/28, the original was replaced) and the steam power steering (installed in 1927/28). The upper saloon looks like in 1908, with the exception of a picture showing the beacon on the island of Scharhörn, which has been in its current place since 1929. The SCHAARHÖRN now looks again as it did in the old days, but sophisticated new safety features have been added. 

On May 25, 1995, the SCHAARHÖRN was officially turned over to her new owners, the "Dampfer SCHAARHÖRN e.V." (Steamer SCHAARHÖRN Association), specially established for the purpose by the Hamburg Chamber of Commerce. The SCHAARHÖRN must now earn her living from chartering and occasional tours for the public. She is manned by members of the "Freunde des Dampfschiffs SCHAARHÖRN e.V." (Friends of the Steamship SCHAARHÖRN Association) who operate the SCHAARHÖRN voluntarily and without pay. In 2002 the "Dampfer SCHAARHÖRN e.V." decided to hand the ship over to the "Stiftung Hamburg Maritim" which already was owner of other old ships.

For further booking, please contact:
Nordpuls GmbH
phone: +49 (0)40 42936-322
mail: b.sietas@nordpuls.com

Please note: Animals are not admitted. For safety reasons strictly no admittance too for persons with high heel shoes. The ticket does not guarantee a permanent seat. Unfortunately the ship's construction (built in 1908) does not allow the transportation of wheelchairs.

As SCHAARHÖRN is an old ship with a voluntary crew we must reserve the right to cancel a trip for any reason even without giving prior notice. In such a case we can not accept any liability. Only the fare is returned.

On board SCHAARHÖRN in respect to the time of day food and drinks are for sale.