|The trade that brought Chile saltpetre to Europe was, along with the Australian wheat trade, one of the last deep-water trades on which sailing ships for some time could compete successfully with the powered ship. The ships went from Europe to Chile westwards around Cape Horn, destined to Valparaiso for orders and to unload whatever cargo they had brought from Europe, but often they went in ballast, especially towards the end of the sailing ships era, when it became increasingly hard for sailers to get cargos. Then they loaded saltpetre in Iquique, and went back eastwards around Cape Horn. |
The nitrate trade was considered the hardest trade in the world; going round Cape Horn can be very tough, and going westwards, the ``wrong'' way, even more so, because of the very strong westerly winds at those latitudes.
A lot of ships sailed on the nitrate trade in the second half of the 19th century; you could sometimes see up to a hundred ships at the same time loading in Iquique. The German shipping company Reederei F. Laeisz, Hamburg used sailers on this trade until the outbreak of World War II.
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