After a pause posting in this category, I’m restarting with the clipper, a very quick sail boat which is not in use anymore. The verb “clip” has been coined by the 17th century English bard John Dryden, with the sense of running or flying very quick. Clip became synonymous with speed, hence “clipper”. Not everybody is certain of it as a nautical term until the end of the 18th century.
The Baltimore Clipper
When this new model of vessel was built, which was intended to “clip” over the waves rather than plow through them, the improved type of boat became known as clipper because of its speed. Baltimore clippers were first built as small, fast sailing vessels for trade around the coastlines of the United States and the Caribbean Islands. Their hull lines tended to be very sharp, with a “V”-shaped cross section below the waterline and strongly raked stem, stern posts, and masts. The origins of the type are unknown but certainly hulls conforming to the concept were being built in Jamaica and Bermuda and by the late 18th century were popular both in Britain and the United States (cf. Howard Irving Chapelle, an American naval architect and curator of maritime history at the Smithsonian).
Sailing 150 miles a day was considered a good day’s run in the 1800’s; clippers traveled approximately 250 miles a day. The best clippers could cover more than 400 miles a day, which is more than what a medium modern sailing yacht can cover now. Speed was important to clipper captains because speed meant big profits for the owners and captains.
Thousands of people were eager to get to the California gold fields and would pay premium prices to get there by the fastest clipper ship. Once there, the miners would pay top dollar for the goods and supplies they needed from back east. The ships that brought the goods to California first could earn a fortune for the owners. Tea from China brought a good price in New York and London, but it had to be delivered before it lost its taste. Some enterprising merchants made their fortunes by shipping ice from the ponds and rivers of New England to the tropics where it was a rare and valuable luxury, but they had to get it there before it melted.
Alan Viliers (23 September 1903 – 3 March 1982), the Mayflower II commander, says that “to sailors, three things made a ship a clipper. She must be sharp-lined, built for speed. She must be tall-sparred and carry the utmost spread of canvas. And she must use that sail, day and night, fair weather and foul”. Mayflower II is the replica of Mayflower, the 17th-century ship famous for transporting the Pilgrims to the New World.
Cutty Sark is one of only three remaining original composite construction (wooden hull on an iron frame) clipper ships from the nineteenth century in part or whole.
She was one of the last tea clippers to be built and one of the fastest, coming at the end of a long period of design development, which halted as sailing ships gave way to steam propulsion.
In 1938 Cutty Sark became an auxiliary cadet training ship at the Thames Nautical Training College, alongside HMS Worcester. By 1954, she had ceased to be useful as a cadet ship and was transferred to permanent dry dock at Greenwich, London, for public display.
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