Friday, August 27, 2010
“Never, in these United States,” wrote historian samuel Eliot Morison, “has the brain of a man conceived, or the hand of man fashioned, so perfect a thing as the clipper ship.”
The word “clip,” which meant simply “to cut”, later came to mean “to move quickly”.” So a clipper ship was a fast-sailing one.
Clipper ships were the fastest and most beautiful sailing ships ever built. Between 1845 and 1859, American shipyards produced nearly 500 of them. The speediest were the giant Yankee clippers. With their masses of sail, these long, slender ships could travel up to 400 nautical miles a day.
Clippers were first built to carry goods to and from China. After the discovery of gold in California in 1848, they carried prospectors and supplies from the East Coast, to the gold fields. Earlier, this 15,000-mile trip around the southern tip of South America took five months. But by the early 1850s speedy clippers such as the Flying Cloud had cut the time to three months. Clippers set other records, too. In 1849, the Sea Witch sailed from Hong Kong to New York in 74 days. In 1852, the Challenger raced from Japan to California in 18 days. And in 1860, the Andrew Jackson sailed from New York to Liverpool, England, in 15 days. But by then steamships, which did not depend on wind, were replacing the clippers. The era of these “greyhounds of the sea” were coming to a close.