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How fast did ships travel in the 1700s?

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Quick Answer

The speed of ships in the 1700s depended on the wind, but averaged about 4 to 5 knots, with the ability to reach 20 knots. In its life of 8 to 10 years, a ship would typically embark on four or five voyages.

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Guangzhou, which was known as Canton in the 1700s, served as a popular port for voyagers traveling from Denmark. Leaving Copenhagen and traversing through the North Sea into the Atlantic could take as much as 3 months, depending on the strength of the monsoon winds. While the trip out to Canton would take nearly 8 months, the return trip back to Denmark could take as little as 6 months. Even so, shipwrecks were rare. During the 40 years in the 18th century that ships embarked on this journey, only six ships were wrecked, with two-thirds occurring during the North Sea leg of the journey.

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