Interwar LBS Sailing School

Original Lithuanian text © Valdas Japertas

Translated to English © Egidijus Nasevičius

* * *

On 1st of July in 1936, a line of thirty cadets, smartly wearing their white uniform dress, listened to official speeches during the opening ceremony of the LBS (Lithuanian Yachting Union) Sailing School. After the LBS Chairman Mr Jurkunas delivered his speech, a white-with-a-blue-strip burgee was hoisted.

The school was located in a boathouse, which was freshly built that spring, of Klaipeda Yacht Club (it was Lithuanian, not local German yacht club, and was located across the harbor in Smiltyne village – here and all the following remarks in brackets and italic are by Later, next to the boathouse, a small marina was also built but at that solemn moment just a pool was started to dig out and the marina wasn’t finished that year yet.

A line of cadets near the LBS Sailing School (Klaipeda Yacht Club boathouse) ir 1936. Source: Lithuanian Central State Archive.

The school aimed to introduce maritime fundamentals to the youth, to promote sailing, to train and produce sailing skippers and masters of yachts.

It had to run every summer for a month. By initial idea of founders, full course was outlined for three years. Each year had its own different focus in training: First year course was intended to produce inland skippers (Class A), second – coastal skippers (Class B), third year – high seas masters of yacht (Class C).

First year saw initial an inland skippers course. Topics were as follows:

  • maritime history
  • constructions and classification of sea vessels
  • rowing
  • deckhand skills and knowledge (rope works, knots, bends, splicing, whipping, sail making, etc.)
  • sailing training and seamanship in dinghies of 15 sq.meters sail area and in sea-yachts
  • sailing in regattas
  • piloting in inland waters and coastal navigation
  • main maritime laws
  • organization of sailing in Lithuania
  • etiquette of the yachtsman

Cadets learning knots in 1936. Source: Jūra magazine of 1936, No. 7

On July 16, the school saw a tragedy.

That day, cadets got school commandant’s permit for leave-off and, lead by their monitor, they went to see port’s entrance. On the way they met port workers who warned them to not go on the pier because of the raging storm outside, or disaster might happen otherwise. A group disregarded this warning and went further but after they walked a good piece of the pier they were convinced that the situation is indeed dangerous. The monitor ordered the group to return back to safety but three of them – Niemcinavičius, Garmus, and Runča – defied the order and went further on. Soon, big wave washed two school cadets and sea scouts Niemcinavičius and Garmus from the pier who were lost.  

It is interesting to note that after this incident the school management wasn’t blamed for this disaster openly. Only on July 23, there was a message in the press that, to reinforce the school, engineer Mr Buntinas is appointed as a principal and Mr Kalvaitis as a commandant. So first principal Mr Vilčinskas and first commandant waved the school goodbye quietly.

Before even opening the sailing school, the LBS decided that every able cadet should sail around in the Baltic sea. In April of 1936, it was decided to buy a bigger yacht for this purpose. It took a couple of months to find a suitable boat.

The LBS records shows that on June 25 decision is made to purchase a yacht Viking for a sailing school from Riga resident Mr B. Jacobsen for a price of 7,500 Litas. Mr Albertas Patas, Secretary of both the Lithuanian Yachting Union and Klaipeda Yacht Club, is tasked to bring the yacht. So the he went to Riga on approximately 1st of July but in Klaipeda the Viking arrived just on 22nd as Mr Patas also made a trip to Pärnu to participate in local regatta as a member of panel.

On 25th of July the LBS Sailing School held grand gala: the Viking was renamed and christened by Lithuanian name as Žalčių Karalienė (the Queen of Serpents, which is kind of irony here as baptizing and pagan symbol go hand in hand but vikings were not zealous Christians anyway).

Yacht’s name sponsors were State’s First Lady Mrs Sofija Smetonienė as boat’s godmother and Vice-minister Mr Masiliūnas as boat’s godfather (there was no clarification of which ministry he is but it should be the Ministry of Education and its Vice-minister Mr Kazimieras Masiliūnas because the LBS was supervised by this ministry at the time). Former crew of the Viking also took part in the ceremony: Under the command of master of the yacht Mr Jacobsen, they took down the French ensign and Yacht Club de France burgee.

The Viking defended honors of her former master Mr Jacobsen and French Yacht Club for eight years. Despite not winning the race around the Isle of Wight and not participating in the Trans Atlantic race, according to the press of the day, she was successful enough in various regattas in the North sea and in the Baltic sea.

Boats of the LBS Sailing School in 1936: three dinghies further and a rowing boat. Source: Jūra magazine, 1936 No. 7

The school had an interesting tradition: For special merits, such as over-keel, sail laceration, or over-board, cadet was to be conferred with an Order of Anchor. The Order even had two degrees: an order with a chain for a great feat and no chain for a smaller and more modest feat.

Chancellor of the Order, clocked himself with a sail and accompanied by two heralds armed with a row and a lifebuoy, was entering dormitory. There all the cadets, lined and in full-dress uniform, were waiting for this solemn procession. In front of the bunk bed of distinguished nominee, the Act of Decoration by the Order of Anchor, inked by Chancellor, Council, and Referendary, was cited. Then six cadets were bringing a big anchor, weighting 300 kilograms, in and were putting it next to the bunk bed of the Order’s Companion. When next cadet distinguished, this “order“ was taken from the current companion and conferred to the next one.

Visitors from Swedish training ship Kaparen, who came to Klaipeda in the end of July, were fascinated about this tradition and were enthusiastically looking forward to introduce a similar Order in their Stiftelsen svenska Seglarskolan sailing school.

* * *

Next year due to the Round Gotland Race, the school opening was scheduled a little bit earlier. The school session started on 27th of June in 1937. Twenty three cadets, with three girls among them, were indentured.

In 1937 training of coastal skippers was provided for advanced cadets. The LBS records refer to two classes so, perhaps, another one was set for an inland skippers training as it was in a previous year.

On 1st of July, sailing yachts Tegu (means Let, owned by a teacher and a poet Mr Salys Šemerys) and Žalčių Karalienė (mentioned above last year’s acquisition the Queen of Serpents, owned by the School) set their sails to Visby for the Round Gotland race. The latter yacht sailed under command of Mr Buntinas (mentioned above replacement principal of the school in 1936) and she was crewed by five school cadets and, in addition, by two members of Klaipeda Yacht Club: Mr Empacher and Mr Mikelaitis. At least Vakarai newspaper says so, but in his memoirs Mr Kazys Vasiliauskas states that he was in a crew not only during the race but on the way to Gotland, too (see next photo).

On the same day in addition to these two yachts, sailing yacht Vytis (means the Knight, which is Lithuanian state seal) set sail to Gotland. The latter wasn’t going to participate in the race so she headed to Slite marina that was designated for spectators. Mr Kalvaitis (mentioned above commandant of the school in 1936) commanded the Vytis and had four sailing school cadets and Mr Gedgaudas in her crew. Sea scout Stasys Marcinkevičius (famous post-war Lithuanian yachtsman and posthumously one of Lithuanian annual sea regattas is named in his honor) was among these four cadets. It is interesting that Mr Marcinkevičius was among these lucky ones while he just have enrolled in the school.

The rest fifteen cadets went to Gotland on board of the Perkūnas (means The Thunder, one of the main pagan gods) ice-breaker of Klaipeda port. She was under command of Mr Juozas Andžejauskas, new principal of the school at that moment (in 1921 Mr Juozas Andžejauskas was a captain of the first merchant vessel under Lithuanian ensign – motorsailer Jūratė; in 1938 he accidentally slipped off and felt from the height deadly injuring himself while he visiting this Perkūnas which was brought to Liepaja for maintenance).

Why is it fifteen? It is hard to tell now. Maybe only four cadets were on board of Žalčių Karalienė, not five, when at the very last moment one cadet’s place was taken by Mr Vasiliauskas. Maybe a number of cadets was increased up to 24. In fact, if not for Romualdas Adomavičius (yachtsman and Head of History Department at Lithuanian Sea Museum in Klaipeda), who made the LBS records public, we wouldn’t know even about 23 cadets as the press indicates them being only 20 in number.

The Žalčių Karalienė on her way to The Round Gotland race in 1937 (soon to become a winner in her category!). From left: Mr K. Vasiliauskas, skipper P. Buntinas, M. Empacher

When arrived in Visby, all the cadets had to relocate from the Žalčių Karalienė and stay ashore because for the race her crew was reinforced with Mr Kalvaitis and Mr Gedgaudas from the Vytis. It was planned to have also mentioned above Mr Patas (who brought this yacht for the LBS school last year) in her crew but apparently something was changed (author says that long ago Mr Patas had his lung shot with a shotgun by some girl he was persistent asking to marry him so it might serve as dismissing factor but Mr Patas also had a reputation of a very cautious sailor, sometimes overprotecting, what is not the right attitude to win the race).

Meanwhile the cadets, left ashore in Gotland, were not so bored. They not only watched the race start and its finish and admired Gotland’s surroundings but also took part in a swimming competition in Slite where they won over local swimmers.

* * *

On 10th of July from Klaipeda to Ventspils, five Lithuanian-crewed Haj-class sailing boats set sail: Rūta (means Rue, national Lithuanian plant symbolizing virginity, also Lithuanian female name), Budys I and Budys II (both replaced wrecked original sea scout’s sailing yacht Budys and the name means Lithuanianized Sea Scout as was proposed by Lithuanian philosopher and national leader in Prussia Mr Vydunas, who you may find on the current 200 Litas banknote), Gintaras (means Amber, national jewel, also Lithuanian male name), and Nijolė (very beautiful pagan goddess, wife of the underworld ruler, also Lithuanian female name; after three years of events, last Lithuanian Navy commander Povilas Julius Labanauskas, accompanied by two his officers and mates, fled from Soviets by this boat, taking along the last naval ensign that is now identified and located in the USA as currently being owned by real friend of Lithuania and  passionate military collector Mr Henry L. Gaidis who knew Mr Labanauskas).

All these boats intended to start in the race from Ventspils to Liepaja on July 15 and in regatta of Liepaja’s Triangle on July 18. For the races in each Haj boat, there were allocated two crew positions for experienced yachtsmen and one crew position for a sailing school cadet. Three big yachts that were in Gotland had to take part in the Ventspils race, too. But the Tegu changed her initial plans for Gotland and Ventspils because of the troubles with the ruder (actually, later author found in yacht owner’s memoirs that the ruder was just an excuse but the real cause of abstention was mutiny – probably, the very first officially recorded mutiny in Lithuanian maritime history!).

Meanwhile, on her course to Ventspils the Vytis got into a severe storm and had to sail straight to Liepaja instead. As the press wrote later, one of the few cadet girls were on board – Ms Žukauskaitė, a nurse of Klaipeda Red Cross Hospital. She was identified as probably the very first Lithuanian female sailing athlete who survived such severe storm at sea and this fact in turn caused a storm of applause by public during the followed homecoming in Klaipeda.

The Žalčių Karalienė (a very fresh winner of the Race Round Gotland in her class!), also raced in these Latvian regattas but hasn’t showed any impressive result. But this fact is not surprising when you know that part of her crew now were sailing school cadets.

* * *

While school cadets were training their skills in sailing at the Baltic Sea, sea scouts, staying in Lithuania ashore, had honored mentioned above cadets and sea scouts late Mr Niemcinavičius and late Mr Garbus, who were lost at sea a year ago. On this occasion, the mass was celebrated in Palanga and a cross in memoriam of perished cadets was installed on the Klaipeda port’s south pier (north pier had previously installed similar memorial plate and an anchor in memoriam of three sea scouts that perished during the Budys shipwreck in 1933).

In summer of 1938, the KBS Sailing School wasn’t opened. Probably, the LBS just had plenty of work organizing sailing events for the National Games (held in occasion of 20th anniversary of Lithuanian Independence that hosted all Lithuanian local and emigrant athletes) and first international regatta in Klaipeda.

The school also hasn’t opened its door in 1939 when Klaipeda and the county were forcibly annexed by the Third Reich (in a balcony of City Theater, their schmuck fuehrer Adolfo delivered his usual style rhapsody on unity of German lands forever; and that pathetic ‘thousand years empire’ has bloody vanished in a very next six years) and most of local Lithuanians were forced to flee to Lithuania (in turn occupied by Soviets already next year).

Only Lithuanian sea scouts have managed to arrange few their training camps for sailing in Šventoji (which became the last port before Lithuania ceased to exist on the eve of World War Two).

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