The Colonial Navy - The Clipper Ships

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The West Coast Fleet - The Clippers



Colonial Navy Inc. plans to operate a parallel square-rigged sail-training program on the West Coast, using up to six reduced-size copies of notable 19th-century clipper ships. Note: it was largely due to the clipper ships that San Francisco developed so quickly into a major seaport, so the return of the clippers to the West Coast on a permanent basis will be very exciting. As with the East Coast program, the ships will all be identical under-water, with different appearances for their topsides. Their rigs will also be identical, which may allow for fairer races between them. These vessels will measure 90 feet length on deck and 21 feet beam, and will set 20 sails; they will be licensed for 22 trainees apiece in double cabins.

To learn more, click on any ship name. To see a larger drawing of any ship, click on it's image.

Clipper Ship ANN McKIM

The clipper ship Ann McKim
Starting about 1800, Baltimore, Maryland shipbuilders devised a new, sharp form for the commercial schooners they built, meaning that their increased speed could give their owners a commercial advantage. These sharp “clipper” schooners were found to be well adapted to serving also as fast armed privateers in the War of 1812, although they had a bad habit of sailing through waves in bad weather and thus foundering. It was only a matter of time before Isaac McKim decided to apply the lessons learned from the schooners to a larger vessel with a full-rigged ship rig. Ann McKim was launched in 1833. She measured 493 tons, 143 feet long on deck, and 28 feet beam. It was felt that she suffered from lack of carrying capacity, but she was the world’s first clipper ship. She ended her days in Chile in 1853 under Chilean ownership.

The clipper ship Ann McKim

Clipper Ship RAINBOW

The Clipper Ship Rainbow
Ship designer John W. Griffiths of New York City was impressed with the speed achieved by Ann McKim, so he designed the larger ship Rainbow to combine high speed with substantial carrying capacity. She was launched in 1845 and immediately started breaking speed records between New York and Canton, China, bringing back mostly tea and porcelain. However, in May 1848, only three years after she was built, she sank with all hands in a severe storm off Cape Horn. She measured 757 tons, 159 feet long on deck, and 32 feet beam.
The Clipper Ship Rainbow

Clipper Ship SEA WITCH

The Clipper Ship Sea Witch
While Rainbow was under construction, John W. Griffiths wondered whether he should have designed her as a more extreme ship. The result was a new clipper in 1846, the very next year: Sea Witch. She immediately established new speed records between New York City and Canton, eclipsing what Rainbow had just accomplished. One of her passages from Hong Kong to New York took only 74 days, a record that stood unbroken until recently. She was wrecked near Havana, Cuba in 1856, when she was 10 years old. She measured 908 tons, 192 feet long on deck, and 43 feet beam.
The Clipper Ship Sea Witch

Clipper Ship MARCO POLO

The clipper ship Marco Polo
Canadian ship designer James Smith built a larger ship in 1851 at Saint John, New Brunswick. With her Chinese-affiliated name, Marco Polo, there was some thought that she should be placed in the China trade, but she was purchased by James Baines’ famous Black Ball shipping line of Liverpool, and used for a time in the wool and passenger trade with Australia under the command of the notorious captain James N. “Bully” Forbes. Ships of the Black Ball Line all had a large black ball painted in the middle of the fore topsail, so that they could be identified from a great distance. Later, she was placed in the transatlantic trade as a fast packet, transporting passengers and timber. She was wrecked off Prince Edward Island, Canada in 1883 at the surprisingly great age of 32. She measured 1625 tons, 184 feet long on deck, and 36 feet beam.
The Clipper Ship Marco Polo

Clipper Ship FLYING CLOUD

The Clipper Ship Flying Cloud
Many of the early clippers had been conceived in New York, but Donald McKay of Boston shifted the center of gravity to Massachusetts with a large number of his designs. His most famous clipper was probably Flying Cloud, built in 1851.Unlike the earlier clipper ships, with their squar-ish transoms, she had a semicircular stern. She was first intended for the gold rush trade from the East Coast to San Francisco, and she established some all-time records for the journey (89 days). San Francisco has not seen any clipper ships since the US Civil War. Flying Cloud is famous for having had a woman, Eleanor Creesy, as her navigator in an era when women were not normally found aboard ships (she was the captain’s wife). Then, she was bought by the famous Black Ball line of Liverpool, which sent her to Australia for the wool and passenger trade. She was wrecked off the coast of New Brunswick in 1874 after a career of 23 years. She measured 1782 tons, 235 feet long on deck, and 41 feet beam.
The Clipper Ship Flying Cloud

Clipper Ship CITY of ADELAIDE

The Clipper Adelaide
Thanks to advances in the safety, power, and reliability of steam engines, and to the construction of the Suez Canal, the clipper ship era was very short in duration. Its last gasp was in the 1860s, when the British developed a special type for the tea trade with Canton and Shanghai. The British clippers were generally smaller than their American predecessors. The later ones sported the latest innovation of split topsails. Whereas the American ships had been built completely of wood, the British ships had wooden planks over an iron frame, which made them stronger and more durable. The British ships usually had a semicircular stern. The most famous of the British ships, Cutty Sark from 1869, is fully restored and on permanent display in a special building at Greenwich, near London. The only other surviving clipper ship in the world is City of Adelaide, designed by William Pile and built at Sunderland in 1864 -- and thus is five years older than Cutty Sark. She was used mostly for the passenger and wool trade with Australia. She was owned for a time, under the name of Carrick, by the British government in the port of Glasgow, and her future was seriously in doubt after a suspicious sinking at pier-side, but she is being transported to Australia for complete restoration. She measures less than 1000 tons, about 160 feet long on deck, and 32 feet beam. In recent years, two new full-sized British-style clippers have been built in the Netherlands and operated in the oceans around the world, Stad Amsterdam (Dutch) and Cisne Branco (Brazilian).
The Clipper Adelaide





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