A clipper ship is a synonym for the merchant ship. In the 1840s, a new kind of merchant navy vessel was created by American ship builders to facilitate faster transport of cargo through the oceanic waters. These ships were later incorporated by the English ship builders as well and the clipper ship started getting famous almost across the world. In its own way, thanks to its speed and swiftness while carrying cargo to its intended destination, the clipper ship revolutionized water transport.
The most important aspect of a clipper ship was speed and it was built in such a way so as to enhance speed and help get more earnings to the owners of the cargo transported. A clipper ship had three masts with square sails covering every coverable area on the mast. This unique mast-and-sail combination also enabled the clipper ship to gain the immense popularity it enjoyed in the mid-to-late 19th century.
A clipper ship offered its captain and crew a sailing speed of over 250 miles in a day while the other routine ships travelled at an average speed of 150 miles per day. In those days, covering 250 nautical miles in a day is a long journey indeed. In fact even the origin of a clipper ship comes because of the slow moving water transportation. With a competition to bring Chinese tea into the goldfields of California before the first tea leaves of the season were sold out led to the sleek designing of a clipper ship.
Size wise, each clipper ship varied. But their tonnage was anywhere between a few hundred to 4000 tons. Tons, in case of ship’s weighing meant the amount of tons of wine that a ship could carry rather than a ship’s equivalent weight in pounds. And in case of a clipper ship, it would have been very important to note the tonnage because even if the ship would have been designed for speed faster mobility through the waters, piling extra loads of cargo would have led to the owner losing out on not just precious cargo but also an entire ship as well, in the event of a ship capsizing.
Amongst the wide range of clipper ships that dominated the era there were quite a few famous ones that carved their place in the pages of shipping history. Of these famous clipper ships, the Flying Cloud which was launched into the American waters in 1851 was a very important clipper ship, as it made the journey between New York and San Francisco in 89 days – a record by itself. The Lightning however created a yet another record by cruising and covering 436 nautical miles in just 24 hours.
But more than these two clipper ships, there is one more remarkable clipper ship that needs to be mentioned. The Cutty Sark was a clipper ship that was built in 1869. It was the last clipper ship to be built and is now preserved on dry dock in Greenwich London. The biggest attraction of this clipper ship is that it is the last original clipper ship that can still be viewed in a physical form.
A clipper ship was a pioneer of water transport in the 1800s and even today holds a very relevant place in the development of the transportation mode. Post the industrial revolution and after the world started to get modernized, steamers and other top-line ships have come into existence making things far easier for people who want to have an experience of transportation by water – for themselves as well as for their cargo. But even in the midst of these developments and transformations, the share and contribution of a clipper ship in water transportation, is something that deserves and merits immense acknowledgment and appreciation from across the world.
If you liked this article, you may also like to read Knowing the legendary ship Mayflower.