clipper

clipper

[klip-er]
clipper, type of sailing ship, designed for speed. Long and narrow, the clipper had the greatest beam aft of the center; the bow cleaved the waves; and the ship carried, besides topgallant and royal sails, skysails and moonrakers—a veritable cloud of sails. The type originated in the United States. Baltimore clippers and Atlantic packet ships were the forerunners of the true Yankee clipper, which may be said to have emerged with the Ann McKim, completed in Baltimore in 1833. The Yankee clipper was brought to perfection by Donald McKay of Boston, who built such vessels as the Flying Cloud, the Glory of the Seas, and the Lightning. U.S. and British clippers came to be known as China clippers because they utilized their speed to carry on a flourishing China trade in tea and opium. Clippers sailed from the U.S. Atlantic coast around Cape Horn to California in the days of the gold rush. They steadily reduced the time for their long voyages and held famous races. The clipper came into being only after its finally successful rival, the steamship, was engaging in transoceanic voyages. In the early days the clipper easily outran the plodding steam vessel, but, ironically, the improved steamship began to forge ahead even as some of the fastest and most beautiful clippers were being built. When the Cutty Sark, one of the swiftest and most celebrated British clippers, was completed at Dunbarton, Scotland, in 1869, the era of the commercial sailing ship had nearly come to an end.

The clipper Flying Cloud

Classic sailing ship of the 19th century, renowned for its beauty, grace, and speed. Apparently originating with the small, swift coastal packet known as the Baltimore clipper, the true clipper evolved first in the U.S. (circa 1833) and later in Britain. It was a long, slim, graceful vessel with a projecting bow, a streamlined hull, and an exceptionally large spread of sail on three tall masts. Clippers carried tea from China and goldminers to California. Famous clippers included the American Flying Cloud and the British Cutty Sark. Though much faster than the early steamships (already in use when the clipper appeared), they were eventually outrun by improved steamship models and largely disappeared from commercial use in the 1870s.

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A clipper was a very fast sailing ship of the 19th century that had multiple masts and a square rig. They were generally narrow for their length, could carry limited bulk freight, small by later 19th century standards, and had a large total sail area. Clipper ships were mostly made in British and American shipyards, though France, the Netherlands and other nations also produced some. Clippers sailed all over the world, primarily on the trade routes between the United Kingdom and its colonies in the east, in trans-Atlantic trade, and the New York-to-San Francisco route round Cape Horn during the California Gold Rush. Dutch clippers were built beginning in 1850s for the tea trade and passenger service to Java.

Origin

The term clipper as applied to ships may derive from the idea of them cutting through the water. Clipper bows were distinctively narrow and heavily raked forward, which allowed them to rapidly clip through the waves. The cutting notion is also suggested by the other class of vessel built for speed, the cutter. One of the meanings of clip since the 17th century is "to fly or move quickly", possibly deriving from the sound of wings. The term clipper originally applied to a fast horse and most likely derives from the term clip meaning "speed", as in "going at a good clip". The Oxford English Dictionary says its earliest quotation in English is from 1830. Cutler reports the first newspaper appearance was in 1835, and by then the term was apparently familiar. An often-quoted but probably incorrect derivation of the term clipper is "they clipped time off a voyage". It was a type of faster transportation.

In the United States, "clipper" referred to the Baltimore clipper, a topsail schooner developed in Chesapeake Bay before the American Revolution. It was lightly armed in the War of 1812, sailing under Letters of Marque and Reprisal, when the type — exemplified by Chasseur, launched at Fells Point, Baltimore in 1814 — became known for her incredible speed; a deep draft enabled the Baltimore clipper to sail close to the wind.

The first archetypal clipper, with sharply raked stem, counter stern and square rig, was Annie McKim, built in Baltimore in 1833. Clippers, running the British blockade of Baltimore, came to be recognized for speed rather than cargo space; while traditional merchant ships were accustomed to average speeds of under ,clippers aimed at or better. Some could reach . The fastest recorded speed for any sailing vessel was a clipper, Sovereign of the Seas, traveling at in 1854.

Clippers were built for seasonal trades such as tea, where an early cargo was more valuable, or for passenger routes. The small, fast ships were ideally suited to low-volume, high-profit goods, such as spices, tea, people, and mail. The values could be spectacular. The Challenger returned from Shanghai with "the most valuable cargo of tea and silk ever to be laden in one bottom". Competition among the clippers was public and fierce, with their times recorded in the newspapers. The ships had low expected lifetimes and rarely outlasted two decades of use before they were broken up for salvage. Given their speed and maneuverability, clippers frequently mounted cannon or carronade and were often employed in piracy, privateering, smuggling, or interdiction service.

Departures of clipper ships, mostly from New York City and Boston, Massachusetts to San Francisco, California, were advertised by clipper ship sailing cards, and represented the first pronounced use of color in American advertising art.

The Callsign of Pan American World Airways is Clipper

China clippers and the epitome of sail

The most significant clippers were the China clippers, also called Tea clippers, designed to ply the trade routes between Europe and the East Indies. The last example of these still in reasonable condition is Cutty Sark, preserved in dry dock at Greenwich, United Kingdom, although she suffered extensive damage in a fire on 21 May 2007.

The last China clippers were acknowledged as the fastest sail vessels. When fully rigged and riding a tradewind, they had peak average speeds over . The Great Tea Race of 1866 showcased their speed. China clippers are also the fastest commercial sailing vessels ever made. Their speeds have been exceeded many times by modern yachts, but never by a commercial sail vessel.

Decline

Decline in the use of clippers started with the economic slump following the Panic of 1857 and continued with the gradual introduction of the steamship. Although clippers could be much faster than early steamships, they depended on the vagaries of the wind, while steamers could keep to a schedule. The steam clipper was developed around this time, and had auxiliary steam engines which could be used in the absence of wind. An example was Royal Charter, built in 1857 and wrecked on the coast of Anglesey in 1859. The final blow was the Suez Canal, opened in 1869, which provided a great shortcut for steamships between Europe and Asia, but was difficult for sailing ships to use. With the absence of the tea trade, some clippers began operating in the wool trade, between Britain and Australia.

Although many clipper ships were built in the mid-19th century, Cutty Sark was, perhaps until recently, the only survivor. Falls of Clyde is a well-preserved example of a more conservatively designed, slower contemporary of the clippers, which was built for general freight in 1878. Other surviving examples of clippers of the era are less well preserved, for example City of Adelaide (a.k.a. S.V. Carrick'').

During the first and second World Wars, several battleships and aircraft carriers were built with a "clipper bow" for improved hydrodynamic efficiency. The clipper bow on carriers was an American peculiarity, Japanese ships did not feature it and British ships had the similar but differently-shaped "hurricane bow," whose purpose was to, like the clipper bow, improve hydrodynamic efficiency and, unlike the clipper bow, protect the hangar deck from spray.

In 2000, two new clippers were built: Stad Amsterdam and Cisne Branco (Brazilian Navy). They are not replicas of any one ship, but an attempt to combine what their builders consider the "best" qualities of clipper ships.

Notable clipper ships

See also

  • Clipper route
  • Cutty Sark
  • Cisne Branco
  • Windjammer
  • External links

    Footnotes

    References

    • Carl C. Cutler, Greyhounds of the Sea (1930, 3rd ed. Naval Institute Press 1984)
    • Alexander Laing, Clipper Ship Men (1944)
    • David R. MacGregor, Fast Sailing Ships: Their Design and Construction, 1775-1875 Naval Institute Press, 1988 ISBN 0-87021-895-6 index
    • Oxford English Dictionary (1987) ISBN 0-19-861212-5.
    • Bruce D. Roberts, Clipper Ship Cards: The High-Water Mark in Early Trade Cards, The Advertising Trade Card Quarterly 1, no. 1 (Spring 1994): 20-22.
    • Bruce D. Roberts, Clipper Ship Cards: Graphic Themes and Images, The Advertising Trade Card Quarterly 1, no. 2 (Summer 1994): 22-24.
    • Bruce D. Roberts, Museum Collections of Clipper Ship Cards, The Advertising Trade Card Quarterly 2, no. 1 (Spring 1995): 22-24.
    • Bruce D. Roberts, Selling Sail with Clipper Ship Cards, Ephemera News 19, no. 2 (Winter 2001): 1, 11-14.
    • Villiers, Capt. Alan, 1973. Men, Ships and the Sea (National Geographic Society)

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