Call Sign: Papa-Delta-Whiskey-November
As from February 24, 1959 until today, the Elbe made towing- and shipping history. It all started on a foggy day, which threatened the trial and the hand-over to the owners. The hand-over could took place, thanks to an unexpected but powerful spring sun that expelled the fog and so, the ship’s career could start. Her first towing job, under captain A. Poot’s command, was only a short trip. Passenger ship Victoria was towed from Flushing to Rotterdam in 10 hours time.
Later, bigger jobs followed. From salvage station Fayal on the Azores, the German tanker Richard Kaselowsky, which couldn’t get anywhere due to a broken crankshaft, was picked up and delivered to Hamburg by the Elbe. During Pentecost in 1959, the Elbe, together with 2 other tugs, the Tasman Zee and the Schelde, towed the famous Admirality Floating Dock from Portsmouth to the Rotterdam Dockyard Company. This was a very appealing job that dominated the presses for days. Still in 1959, the Elbe towed two aircraft carriers from Boston to Antwerp. Further, the severely damaged Africa Queen was towed in ten days from Lisbon to the Flushing roads. Her first survey, after 4 years in service, was not hasted. Improvement to the exhaust gas turbines for charging, plus the installation of air coolers, resulted into a higher charging pressure. The engine output increased therefore from 4000 to 4500 horsepower. Until the Zwarte Zee (IV) came into service in 1963, the Elbe was during a short period the most powerful tug in the world. Due to the decreasing demand for heavy duty sea-going tugs, L. Smit & Co’s Internationale Sleepdienst decided to plan and order the sisters Clyde and Elbe. Heavy duty, at that time, because the most powerful tug until then was still the Zwarte Zee (III), with 4200 horsepower already more than 2 decades an example of power. The two planned sisters should be able to match the power of the flag ship.
In 1976, Smit decided to offer Elbe for sale. One of the terms was that she would not get into the hands of a rival. When the Elbe was rebuilt to pilot cutter, where, of course the towing winch was removed, she would be heading into a bright new future.
On one of the last towing jobs, the Elbe is towing a pontoon from Algeciras in Spain to Felixstowe in England. Some smaller jobs on the North Sea follow, whereafter the ship is being prepared for the voyage to Cork in Ireland. Chief Engineer A.J. Dijker is the last man on board. He takes the ship with a temporary crew to Ireland. At the Verolme ship yard in Cobe, the Elbe is being thoroughly rebuild.
During rebuilding the ship, the Elbe isn’t obviously a tug anymore. Besides the removal of the towing winch, also the towing rails and the engine room hatch are being removed. Also, the boat deck is being expanded up to the capstan on the poop deck. Extra crew quarters are being created for the pilots and the sloops are being placed to the aft. Also, the bridge deck is being expanded and the fendering was cut away. However, during rebuilding the ship, the original interior is retained. Later, during restoring the vessel, this turned out to be a blessing for the ship as well as for her crew.
Under her new name 'Maryland', the Elbe serves nine years as a pilot cutter off the coast of the United States. The ship is here also praised for her seaworthiness as she appears to behave extremely well on rough seas. However, The Association of Maryland Pilots decides to hand her over to Greenpeace in 1985. At that moment, the environmental organization is looking for a firm ship for campagnes, mainly in Arctic waters.
In 1985, The Association of Maryland Pilots decided to donate her pilot cutter Maryland to the environmental organization Greenpeace. As a result, the original Elbe was even rebuilt more, with hydraulic cranes for launching the well known inflatable rubber boats and she got equipped with a helicopter deck for air support when finding her way through the ice. As the Elbe was not built as an ice class vessel, Greenpeace added 17 mm extra steel to her bow, however, assistance of a helicopter was still very welcome.
After many years of absence, the Elbe was welcomed back in Rotterdam on January 4th, 2002. For the first time since September 1976, the ship returned under the name Elbe, and with a blue painted band on the funnel.
The ship’s first berth was at the Wilton harbour in Schiedam. At this place, restoration made start. The windlass was overhauled and the foremast was brought back in original condition, also without crow’s nest, among others. The widened bridge deck, with a covered sloop deck, was modified and with the removal of the helicopter deck, the Elbe regained the first lines of a sea going tug.
During spring 2003, the Elbe is start ship for the Heineken Race of the Classics, that year she also participated in the Furieade. In 2004 there was an open house at Alphatron, which was also the reunion of radio operators of Radio Holland, with the commissioning of the, also, restored, radio station. Later that year she also attended the boat parade at the 25 year anniversary of the National Towage Museum Maassluis. In October 2003 and April 2004, the Elbe returns to her original home port Maassluis. Until July 30, 2004, when doom strikes: heavy transport ship Fairpartner runs into the Elbe, with her bulbous bow right into her engine room. The Elbe sinks within minutes.
The ship is being salvaged en repaired in Vlaardingen. The Elbe is the last ship that docks at shipyard HVO. After that, the shipyard will close. On October 27, 2004, the Elbe at that moment, is moored at Wärtsilä in the Wilhelmina harbour in Schiedam, the Elbe sinks again. This time it is an act of sabotage. Many volunteers see all the hard work they put in for many months literally disappear under water, but they hold on to their dream. The Elbe is being saved from demolition and restoration continues!
On Saturday February 12, 2005, the Elbe returns to her original home port, Maassluis. With 3 degrees celsius and windforce 8 to 9 south west, the ship gets a warm welcome of hundreds of interested persons. The continuation of the restoration is larger than ever. The engine room is being overhauled completely, all cabling in the ship is being replaced, the interior is being disassembled mostly. The ship is being re-isolated completely, tank tops replaced, the in 1976 removed fendering is being restored completely. Also, the rear mast is being overhauled and placed back. The bulwark on the poop deck is being replaced and the bridge wing at the rear mast is placed back. The hood of the engine room is being renewed and the bitt is being placed back on the poop deck.
All this work make the Elbe a real sailing ship that, in 2013, fully regained her shine as sea going tug. Autumn 2013, the Elbe receives her certificates, proving she is a real sailing ship.