The Story of Tall Ship Avatar
Written by Aleksandr Mariy
Avid tall ship sailor, student and freelance graphic designer
Christened during the Harlingen Tall Ships Races in 2014, Avatar is a tall ship that many now know and love. If you’re attending Kiel Week, Hanse Sail Rostock or Fête Maritime de Brest in 2016 you’ll be sure to see her, with a striking green hull and decorative characters from the namesake 2009 blockbuster ensuring she truly is unmistakable; but this beautiful topsail schooner holds so much more than what’s on the surface, with a history dating back more than seven decades.
Constructed in a shipyard in Wolgast, 1941, the vessel you see today was originally born a Kriegsfischkutter (KFK), a ‘War Trawler’ that served the Kriegsmarine flag of Nazi Germany. With no name she simply carried her yard number 401.
During the Nazi occupation of Western Europe the Germans would use such vessels as outposts almost everywhere along their coastlines for operations like minesweeping, submarine patrols and anti-aircraft escorts. As a result, KFKs like 401 were among the most capable and heavily armed vessels of their time, sporting the 88mm (FLAK) and 105mm guns that quickly gained a reputation for horror among British and American pilots: they were heavy, quick firing and exceptionally accurate.
Like her many sisters, the design of 401 adopted that of a fishing trawler to provide standout seaworthiness and a fine disguise for such a heavy arsenal of weaponry. In addition, a composite build hull provided her with a little extra protection from magnetic mines.
In a stroke of luck not shared by all, KFK 401 was able to survive the war, with records showing her being towed to the Netherlands in 1954 to receive a major overhaul at the Scheepswerf De Rietpol shipyard. Her wooden planking was replaced by steel hull plates and the deck fitted with fishing gear. Operating under the Amsterdam company Nederlandse Houtimport Maatschappij she was renamed to “AM-26 Nehim IV” and entered service as a North Sea side trawler later that year.
Throughout the next 2 decades she was sold and renamed many times, becoming “YM-64 Rony” in 1958, “KW-40 Alie” in 1966, “IJM-15 Alice Therese” in 1972 and “BU-152 Grietje Maria” that same year. In the latter years she was also used for sport fishing, before eventually being sold for sale or scrap in 1975.
Eight years later she was bought by Bill Haenen who planned to rebuild her as an offshore supplier or guard ship, but that was never realised. In 1997 she was bought and renamed “Grietje Maria” by an Englishman who dreamt of converting her to a schooner. His unfortunate passing then placed the project on hold, but in 2010 a man named André Hanzens decided he could make the dream a reality with just a few updates to the original design.
Image Credits: Aleksandr Mariy, Tall Ship Avatar and ROTC
KFK 401 had indeed found her luck again, setting sail as the tall ship Avatar in mid-2014
The drawings and images you see here show just how much this vessel has changed in her 72 years of service, and she’s not the only one, so next time you’re walking the deck of a tall ship at one of the many events we list, take a moment to find out where that vessel originated; you might be surprised by what you’ll learn!
Tall Ship Avatar Technical details
240 m² (without square sails)
310 m² (with 2 square sails)
450 m² (with all sails)