What Is A Clipper Ship?

What is a Clipper Ship?

A Clipper Ship was a merchant ship with sails built in the 1840s by American shipbuilders. With the growth of the shipping industries, the need for faster transportation of the cargo was felt thus giving rise to the clipper ship.

The American shipbuilders created this merchant ship that could transport their goods at speed considerably higher than what was available back then. The English builders followed suit leading to its popularity worldwide. It brought about a considerable change in the shipping industry with its almost unparalleled speed and transportation capabilities.

Clipper’s Structure

A clipper was a sailing ship with three masts and square sails. These ships were meant to be fast and carry small loads of valuable cargo like tea, opium, spices, people, and mail over long distances.

The clipper’s masts were its main characteristics. They were tall and carried more sails than any other ship of those times. The formation of sails on the mast made them look like a cloud. These sails were managed by a complex system of rigging rising above a sharp bow and a sleek, narrow hull.

The tall masts and sails gave the clipper ships an aerodynamic structure and never seen before speeds.

The tonnage of the clipper ships remained constant at 4000 tons over different models. What varied was the size. Here tonnage does not refer to the whole weight of the vessel but carrying capacity of the ship as in how much wine it could carry. It is essential to know the limit as to how much weight can be safely loaded on the ship because otherwise, it could lead to severe financial damage to the merchant. An overloaded ship runs the risk of not only losing precious cargo but also capsizing leading to the loss of the entire ship as well.

Origin Of Clipper ships

Flying Fish Baltimore Clipper
Flying Fish Baltimore Clipper

The first Clipper ships were the Baltimore clippers which were originally topsail schooners developed in the Chesapeake Bay before the American Revolution. These schooners were very popular between 1795 and 1815. Baltimore Clipper’s speed made it valuable for transporting slaves and perishable cargo. Its hull design makes it the predecessor of the larger clipper ships of the 19th century.

Where was the clipper ship used?

While its competitors were lagging at a mere 150 miles per day the clipper shipped blew the competition at 250 miles per day. Despite the fact that these numbers do not mean much these days, back in those days, 250 nautical miles was quite a long journey. The very birth of the clipper ship lay in the solution to slow transportation over water. Bringing Chinese tea into America and other countries swiftly resulted in a boom for the Clippers as tea had to be delivered before its lost its flavor.

During the California Gold Rush, faster ships for transporting supplies meant enormous profit for the businessmen and miners. This was achieved by clipper ships.

Earlier, the East India Company used to pay Chinese silver in return for silver. The prices of silver rose which prompted wily British traders to trade their Opium for Chinese tea. This resulted in far-reaching implications for the Chinese, Indians and the Britishers.

Famous Clipper Ships

1) The Flying Cloud

The Flying Cloud Clipper
The Flying Cloud Clipper

Among many other clipper ships that have revolutionized and dominated the shipping industry, the Flying Cloud happens to be one of the most famous. It touched the American waters in 1851 and created history as it traveled between New York and San Francisco in just 89 days.

2) The Lightning

The Lightning
The Lightning

The record established by Flying Cloud was surpassed by the Lightning which set the bar pretty high by cruising and covering 436 nautical miles in as little as 24 hours.

3) The Cutty Sark

The Cutty Sark
The Cutty Sark

In addition to these two clippers, another clipper ship worth taking note of is The Cutty Sark. It was built back in 1869 and happened to be the last clipper ever made. It is now kept in Greenwich London. The specialty of this clipper ship is that it happens to be the last of its kind that can be still viewed in physical form.

After the industrial revolution, when modernization was taking over all aspects of life and steamers and high-end ships were coming into existence the popularity of the clipper ship took a dip by a respectable margin. But even before that, it was extensively used in water transport especially in the 1800s. Even then the contribution of the clipper ship in the development of modern water transport cannot be ignored by any means. Its merits are universally acknowledged.

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