German steam veterans head back

Otto Lauffer at Hitzler Werft (Photo: Museumshafen Oevelsgoenne A. Westphal
Otto Lauffer at Hitzler Werft (Photo: Museumshafen Oevelsgoenne A Westphalen)
 Alexandra: back on the right track after costly repairs.
Alexandra:back on the right track after costly repairs.
Prinz Heinrich: headed for birthplace Papenburg in 2017?
Prinz Heinrich: headed for birthplace Papenburg in 2017?

A trio of veteran German steamships could just all sail again in 2017 after completion of costly restorations which have taken years to tackle and were still underway as the year turned.

In Hamburg the long-stalled restoration of the 88 year old former Hamburg police steam launch Otto Lauffer – probably the last of its kind in Germany – is taking a big step forward in January with the installation of a replacement boiler.

Restoration project head Björn Nicolaisen at the Museumshafen Övelgönne in Hamburg - which owns the launch - told Maritime Journal “a first major phase in the restoration of Otto Lauffer was completed at the end of November. Extensive shipbuilding work was carried out and the entire hull blasted”. The work also included engine measurement and damage as well as shaft and rudder inspection.

The permit for the17.33m x 4.20m ship’s old coal-fired smoke-tube 12 bar steam boiler expired in 2003 after 75 years operation. Nicolaisen said a replica was being built by specialists Wulff & Umag Energy Solutions in Husum. He said it was being installed in January and further work would then follow.

The Otto Lauffer’s original two cylinder compound steam engine of 147hp, built - like the ship itself - at the now defunct H.C. Stülcken Shipyard in Hamburg – was however being re-used. It was being overhauled at the Hitzler Werft in Lauenburg, upstream on the Elbe, where the restoration is being carried out. Otto Lauffer was towed there last September.

The riveted, steel-hulled launch, drawing 1.65m and displacing 44 tons, is said to be the only one of its kind still in existence in Germany. It was built for Hamburg port police in 1928 and launched as HAFENPOLIZEI V1 – a name it served under between the 1920s and 1968 along 100kms of the busy Elbe River.

It was extensively restored at Hamburg’s Blohm + Voss Werft in the early 1980s and was used as a ferry for many years until its boiler operating licence ran out. It was on blocks at Blohm + Voss after about 2011 with officials aware that further restoration, particularly the boiler replacement, would be costly. It was however made possible by generous financial support in 2015 and restoration planning began last summer after formal approval of that support, which totalled €890,000 and came from the German Government and the federal city-state of Hamburg.

More cash is still needed but the official backing has been a significant leg-up for the project. The Berlin Ministry of Culture and Media donated €400,000. Hamburg authorities, who have always shown keen interest in the leading German port’s maritime heritage, put up the rest.

City Economics Senator Frank Horch said “historic ships, port facilities and machinery bear testimony to Hamburg’s maritime past. It is the obligation of a place that has a port history of more than 800 years to preserve them”. The Museumshafen Övelgönne added that “following the loss of numerous steam ships, Otto Lauffer is a rare example of steam ship building in the1920s and is now the only steamship launch in the whole of Germany”.

In Leer meanwhile there was hope at the start of the new year that a second significant German steamship veteran will also sail again soon after some 13 years of restoration work – and perhaps even return at some point to the now prestigious shipyard that built it.

The 37m long and 7m wide passenger steamer Prinz Heinrich, now 107 years old, steamed on one engine and with tug assistance to a regular berth in the town late year after weeks of drydocking at the nearby Ferus Smit shipyard. Sub-surface hull areas were cleaned and repainted and corrosion protection applied. Following approval of that work, plans were to have the ship’s two restored150hp (221kW)  steam engines inspected and certified. They were built at the Gusto Shipyard in the Netherlands in 1922 and provide 10 knots. The ship’s boiler and oil burner were approved last September.

A reliable source told Maritime Journal that the steamship was expected to leave Leer early in 2017 and undertake excursion trips  – including one some 20 kms up the Ems to Papenburg. That’s where it was built in 1909 by Meyer Werft as a twin screw postal and passenger steamer for local ferry service. It served as a supply ship in both world wars and was later saved from scrapping and brought to Leer by an association which has, since 2003, been dedicated to preserving it as one of the last maritime witnesses to Germany’s imperial past and as its last postal and passenger steam ship.

In Flensburg work on the 36.96m Alexandra – at 108 the oldest of the three steam-powered German veterans and also Germany’s oldest ocean-going passenger steam ship was lasting longer than tipped.

It had been expected to return home from Husum in December after boiler replacement in November. But the Alexandra foundation said it would now be 2017 before the ship is back in Flensburg. They said however the veteran looked good with the roof closed again and that dinghy construction had begun.

The replacement 3m x 3.3m steam boiler, also from Wulff & Umag Energy Solutions in Husum, was installed at the Husumer Dock und Reparatur Werft after the old unit failed a pressure test in 2013.

The Alexandra volunteer foundation in Flensburg said there was still major work to do on the old ship. Nonetheless, a 2017 excursion timetable for the veteran still optimistically listed a “boiler inauguration” excursion in May.

Alexandra, 7.17m wide and drawing 3m, was built in 1908 at the Janssen & Schmilinski Shipyard in Hamburg. It is still driven by its original 420hp two-cylinder compound steam engine providing 12 knots.

By Tom Todd

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