California Clippers

The needs of the particular businesses in San Francisco, where the speed with which certain special cargoes could be procured from the east coast or Europe, demanded improvements in the way ships were built. Instead of the clumsy old boats that took from six months to a year to ply their way around the tip of South America something lighter, sleeker and much faster was required. Thus it was for the needs of the California trade that the most remarkable of the great sailing ships was developed, the clipper ship. The square shouldered, old hulls were narrowed, their bows sharpened, their sides curved to glide through the water. Bowsprits, masts and yards lengthened and canvas stretched to every conceivable place where it could catch a breath of wind.

Clipper Flying Cloud

Along with the improvements in speed came new, more appropriate names that resonated with the power the clippers could generate. White Squall, Flying Cloud, Meteor all sang their new speed. The Sea Witch was the first to arrive from New York in July 1850 after only ninety-seven days at sea. Surprise arrived in March 1951 after ninety-six days, Sword Fish in February 1852 in ninety days and when Flying Cloud showed up in August after only eighty-nine days she held the record.  By the end of 1852 about one thousand clippers had arrived in San Francisco, each carried around a thousand tons each and often earned enough in one voyage to cover the cost of construction.

Clippership Sweepstakes

The clippers soon superseded the older ships, but for the same financial reasons they were constructed in the first place, the high cost for a ship to lie in port at any of the wharves, cost that could run up to two hundred dollars a day, led to improvements in the manner of loading and unloading the clippers. And perhaps no place in the world could a ship be loaded or unloaded faster than in San Francisco. To be a stevedore became an honored occupation in which those engaged took great pride.



  1. Jeremy Turner says

    Interesting – 2nd book of the Animal Tales Trilogy will have a modified account of the great tea race of 1866, told appropriately enough by the Albatross. Need to buy your book.

Speak Your Mind


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.