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All aboard the
Gorch Fock

The Gorch Fock is the German navy's signature tall ship sails the seas as a friendly ambassador ship. Harbors around the world have welcomed the sight of her sails that every Naval officer has to learn to control.

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By Jan Schwochow

Ahoi, sailor!

The Gorch Fock II was built in 1958 after the first ship was given to the Russians as war repatriations. Today, every German naval officer has to serve her decks, but there’s no need for you to join the navy to learn all about this rig.

Anchors aweigh

Through practice and teamwork, naval cadets learn to master the sails, the waves and the sea. The vessel participates in sailing parades and tall ship races as a friendly ambassador of Germany and a guest in many harbors around the world.

All hands on deck

Sailors have to know every inch of the ship’s decks,
from stem to stern.

Ship-shape down below

In the aft of the lowest level, the engine room is subdivided into three sections and powers the ship’s pitch propellor machinery, a fresh water generator, heating, electrical generators and air conditioning. At the fore are store rooms and lockers for the sailors. In order for the ship to function, the equipment and activity at this level must be impeccable.

Wide berths

The second deck accounts for most of the ship’s living space. The majority of crew members, both ranked officers and cadets, sleep on this deck, with the cadets curling into traditional hammocks that don’t give anyone an abundance of room to manoeuvre.

As the crow flies

The upper deck contains cabins for the ship’s high officers in the aft and the galley to the fore. At the bow, an albatross designed by Dr. Heinrich Andreas Schroeteler proudly serves as a figurehead, guiding the vessel. The original albatross was made of teak wood, but it had to be replaced by a fiber replica after several wooden figureheads were lost at sea.

Know the ropes

The rigging system on the Gorch Fock is called »barque-rigged«. This means that the foremast and mainmast, the primary driving sails, are carried on horizontal beams that span across the the deck, known as »square-rigged«. Meanwhile, the mizzenmast, at the aft, is »gaff-rigged«, or controlled by an angled bar at its peak. Securing all the rigging blocks to maximum rope tightness is called »chock-a-block«.

Three sheets
to the wind

When passing through bridges at the Kiel Canal, the ship must lower its foremasts and mainmasts from 45.3 m above sea level to 39.8 m. Sailors must know the names of each sheet on every sail to do this. Otherwise unsecured portions of the bottom sail might end up »footloose« instead of in the intended top portions.

All the Knots
in the Sea

For the past sixty years, the Gorch Fock has sailed the world and taught sailors »the ropes« in the German navy.


Deutsche Marine • Heinrich Walle Koehler (2008): 50 Jahre Segelschulschiff Gorch Fock, Koehlers Verlagsgesells.


Design: Jan Schwochow
3D-graphic: Mesut Capkin, Katrin Lamm, Felix Waldow
Research: Jan Schwochow
Text: Emily Manthei