OK, so these aren’t Clipper ships. Not even close to the spectacular, stylish and fast ships that plied the waves during the 19th Century. The last time I wrote about the Book Clippers – the ships that shaped the world by Daniel J Nolan which I am still reading, I indicated that I was on chapter one, and wondering if I would read Chapter 2. Well, I did. Indeed, I am on Chapter 4. Almost a quarter of the way through the book, so it looks like I’m giving it a go. What’s kept me on board?
It becomes clear that America is dominating the world in the production of Clipper ships. The Californian Gold Rush is in full flight by 1850. The race is on to get from New York to San Francisco as quickly as possible, and to do it in relative comfort and style, taking a Clipper seems the way to do it. These ships were built to look sleek and stylish but primarily for speed. Surprisingly, they relished the winds of the south, around Cape Horn. Facing gales, ice and mountainous seas were no deterrent to the captains and crew of these magnificent ships. Chapter two of the book focuses on the race from New York or Boston to California, with many ships being timed and betted upon. Though nothing of losing sail or masts, the drive always was for speed. They were masters of repair. There really was a ship called the Flying Dutchman.
Hong Kong to San Francisco was another popular route. Ships faced Typhoons and sliced through the waves. What surprises me from the story told, is how few of these ships appear to have been lost to the sea. Obviously, some were. But I have been surprised to hear about the way they approached the weather.
In 1959, eighty five clippers set off for California. The goal was to reach the other side in less than 110 days. Only six ships achieved that target. I know there are the tall ships these days. They aren’t run in the same way. I can’t imagine the lifestyle of those days.