March/April Issue 239: The Sea Devil


Seen from the bridge of the British steamship Gladys Royale on a cold January day of 1917 in the North Atlantic, the white cloud on the horizon resolved itself into a three-masted sailing ship. The captain of Gladys Royale saw the big sailing ship was flying the flag of Norway and thought nothing of it when Seeadler (Sea Eagle) hoisted a signal flag requesting a time check.

So Gladys Royale, hauling coal to Buenos Aires, slowed down. The Norwegian flag was replaced with a German one. Shots were fired across the bow and Gladys Royale surrendered. After the crew was transferred to Seeadler, Gladys Royale was scuttled.

Thus began the amazing career of Count Felix von Luckner and the sailing raider Seeadler, which during the course of the next 225 days captured and scuttled 16 Allied ships, including ships flying British, French and American flags. All of this chaos was orchestrated with the loss of only one life: a seaman who was killed accidentally by a ruptured steam line.

Count von Luckner ran away from home at age 13, joining a Russian sailing ship trading to Australia. Even at that age, von Luckner was quick-thinking and very lucky. During the passage he fell overboard and would have been lost had a hungry albatross not swooped down on him. Von Luckner grabbed hold of the bird’s legs and the crew was able to keep him in sight.

In Australia he jumped ship and worked as a roustabout, lighthouse keeper, boxer, musician, kangaroo hunter and bar owner before making it back to Germany where he passed his exams and was admitted to the German Navy.

When the German Navy impounded the Scottish-built three-masted barque Pass of Balama (1,571 tons) and outfitted the vessel as a commerce raider with twin diesels and twin 105-mm guns, her name was changed to Seeadler and command given to von Luckner. And so began von Luckner’s predation, which included the capture of 16 ships before he was captured, initially escaping only to be recaptured. He returned to Germany in 1919. He became famous when Lowell Thomas — the American who wrote about Lawrence of Arabia — wrote a book titled Count Luckner, the Sea Devil.

After the war, von Luckner bought a four-masted schooner, Vaterland, and sailed around the world. During World War II, von Luckner was instrumental in surrendering his town of Halle to the Americans, earning a death sentence from the Nazis. Later he moved to Sweden where he died in 1966 at the age of 84.

Let’s join Count von Luckner on Seeadler for a noon sight on the Southern Atlantic. Let’s also see if from this sight we can get an idea of what our longitude is; though this is not always an accurate methodology, it’s one that is useful to know. Remember that at LAN the LHA of the sun and the GHA are the same. Therefore, the longitude should be the same as the GHA. It is Feb. 12, and we will use the 2016 Nautical Almanac. Height of eye is 20 feet, and we will be taking a lower limb observation of the sun. The DR position is 20° 25’ S by 33° 12’ W. The sextant altitude of the lower limb of the sun is 83° 8.4’.

A. Calculate the time of LAN. 
B. What is the Ho?
C. What is the latitude?
D. What is the longitude at the time of our noon sight?

A. LAN is at 14:26:48
B. Ho is 83° 20.1’
C. Latitude is 20° 23.5’ S
D. Longitude is 33° 08.8’ W

By Ocean Navigator