Maritime Topics On Stamps :

    Clipper !
Clipper 'Ariel'

Sharp-built schooners and brigs called 'Baltimore Clippers' (left stamp) appeared as privateers during the 1812-14 war between Great Britain and the United States. With rakish masts, similar in appearance to French luggers and frigates, they became the forerunners of the famous later clippers. Early on, these clippers sailed as packet-ships, but with their great speed they were ideally suited—and used—to smuggle opium and slaves as well... Hence, the terms 'Opiumclipper' and 'Slaveclipper'.
Baltimore Clipper Clipper 'Rainbow'
The very first clipper, 'Rainbow', was designed by New York shipbuilder John Willis Griffiths. He tested his ideas with models in water tanks. In those days the great sailing ships had a slender stern and a round bow, which was lifted up by each wave. Griffiths reversed this trend by giving his designs a slender bow and a broader stern. Especially the masts were much higher than usual. In 1845 'Rainbow' was sent on her first voyage to China to load tea (right stamp).

The word 'Clipper' originated from the verb 'to clip' and the term 'to go at a good clip’. Typical was the elongated and concave shape of the stem, the so-called 'clipper stem'. The ships were deep in the water with long, slender hulls and streamlined waterlines. Their bottoms were flat.
Length to breadth ratios ranged from 5:1 to 6:1, later on with stronger steel hulls even up to 8:1. Due to these extreme ratios these later ships were often called 'Extreme Clippers'.
Most clippers were three-masted full-rigged ships. Their very high masts allowed setting an additional sky sail at the very top. Mast heights were approximately 3/4 of the ships lengths. There were additional stay sails and studding sails fixed on extensions spars. The last clippers set up to seven square sails per mast, one atop the other.
This stamp represents the 'Flying Cloud', designed and built by the famous shipbuilder Donald McKay in 1851. She had a length of 230ft, beam 41ft, draft 21ft. All clippers were able to sail at average speeds of 14 to 15 knots, with top speeds reaching up to 20 knots.

Clipper 'Sea Witch'
In those days the first steamers were built as well, but with their coal-carrying capacities insufficient for long voyages, there was still a need for very fast sailing ships. The first true clippers were built for the profitable tea-trade between China and New York. Ship owners made high profits when the fastest ships returned to New York with the first harvest of the year. In 1849, 'Sea Witch' (see stamp) under Captain Waterman set a new record for the passage from Hongkong to New York in just 74 days. Not much earlier, such voyages had taken 150 to 180 days.

American Clipper
In 1847, thirteen vessels docked at the port of San Francisco, a settlement with approx. 1,000 inhabitants. One year later, gold was discovered. In 1849, 775 ships reached San Francicso. There was only one clipper among them, the 'Memnon'. She had made a record run of 122 days for the passage from New York to San Francicso. By 1849, San Francisco had attracted some 20,000 people.
Costs charged for all kinds of goods had exploded tenfold. A ship, which was able to do three round voyages per year instead of the normal two was bound to be a gold mine as well. Immediately, clippers were taken off the tea-trade routes to China and sent around Cape Horn.
In 1850, the shipyards at New York’s East River employed 10,000 men building new clipper ships like mad. The whole nation was under the spell of the gold rush. And the clippers were stretched to their limits. 'Samuel Russel' needed only 109 days, 'Sea Witch' 97 days and the 'Surprise' 96 days for the New York - Golden Gate passage. Flying Cloud
In 1851, 'Flying Cloud' set a new record on the New York/San Francisco run with a time of 89 days and 21 hours, anchor to anchor, on her maiden voyage. During the passage three spars broke in a heavy storm and sails and ropes were torn to shreds. Yet, the crew repaired all damage within two days and reached Frisco nearly a week faster than the previous record holder. Three years later, in 1854, 'Flying Cloud' even eclipsed her earlier times, establishing the absolute record for this run with 89 days and 8 hours!
During 1852-53, the three clippers 'Flying Fish', 'John Gilpin' and 'Wild Pigeon' competed in a famous New York - San Francisco race, which was won by 'John Gilpin' in 92 days.

China Clipper
Tea Clipper
In Great Britain construction of clippers started around 1851. British ships were somewhat smaller than their American counterparts. They were built for voyages to China, especially for the trade with tea and opium. Since the end of the 18th century Britain transported opium from India to China, despite Chinese efforts to block this trade. Huge profits were accumulated and the conflict intensified. In 1840-42 the 'Opium War' between Great Britain and China resulted in the Chinese surrender and the seizure of Hong Kong. Now China could be flooded with opium. American and French ships took part in this evil business as well. On the left stamp you can see the term 'China Clipper' and to the right 'Tea Clipper'.

Ariel and 
Many famous races took place during the 30 years of the great clipper era. But there was one which caused a worldwide sensation: the 'Great Tea Race' of 1866. Sixteen clippers were anchored in China, waiting for the first tea harvest to arrive. All wanted to earn the fabulous premium awaiting the winner, an extra ten shilling per ton. Among the sixteen, five were regarded as favourites: 'Teaping', 'Fiery Cross', 'Taitsing', 'Serica' and 'Ariel'. After the harvest had arrived and was loaded on board, these five clippers were ‘flying’ through the stormy south-east trades to the Cape of Good Hope. Ships and crews operated at their utmost limits. Breakers were constantly washing over the decks, and two spars broke on the 'Ariel'. Then the ships were driven northwards along the African coast, for a whole month. After 98 days, the 'Teaping' (left stamp) and the 'Ariel' (right stamp) came within visual range of each other, in the English Channel. On both ships every last piece of canvas had been set. Side by side they flew towards the mouth of the River Thames. 'Ariel' was the first to reach her dock, leading by eight minutes, but was unable to moore because of the low tide. Shortly thereafter, 'Teaping' managed to go alongside and was declared the winner. However, 'fair play' ruled and th reward was shared evenly! 'Serica' reached London on the same tide but about1.5 hours later. Two days later, 'Fiery Cross' and 'Taitsing’ arrived in London, too.

Clipper 'Lightning'
Clipper 'Orient'
In 1851 gold was found in Australia as well and crowds of gold diggers moved ‘down under’. Outward-bound 'Australian Clippers' took the route around the Cape of the Good Hope. Homeward-bound, loaded with wool, they sailed across the Pacific and rounded Cape Horn on the way to Europe. As the winds came predominantly from astern, this was most favorable to the vast sail areas carried by the clippers. A typical English clipper was the 'Orient' (right stamp). She was built in 1853, expressly for the Australian trade. The 'Lightning' (left stamp) was built by Donald McKay in 1854 at Boston for James Baines & Co. of Liverpool. She and the 'James Baines' were the fastest clippers on the Australian trade routes. Both made record passages, from Melbourne to Liverpool in only 63 days. 'Lightning' was acclaimed to be the fastest clipper ever built. In stormy weather she achieved 18 to 21 knots. Her main mast had a height of 164 feet; the longest yard was 95 ft; the total length of the ship was 279 ft, beam 42 ft, draft 23 ft, deadweight 2,084 tons.

Following the opening of the Suez Channel in 1869, the China routes were taken over by the steamers; however, clippers continued to serve on the long routes to and from Australia.

Clipper 'Thermopylae'
The British clipper 'Thermopylae' (left stamp) was launched in 1868. Her owner, G. Thompson, claimed that she was the fastest sailing ship in the world. She needed only 91 days for her first voyage from China to London, impressively underlining this statement. A golden cock was fixed to the top of her main mast to symbolize her leading role among British clippers. Captain Jock Willis, a Scotsman, was quite annoyed by this bragging and one year later he built the 'Cutty Sark', a ship almost identical in size expressly to challenge the superb 'Thermopylae'.
The measurements of the 'Cutty Sark' are (still today!) 272 feet length over all, 213 ft length at waterline, 36 ft beam, 20 ft draft, 2,133 tons deadweight. With all sails set she displayed 32,670 sqft of canvas.
'Cutty Sark'
On her first two voyages to the Far East 'Cutty Sark' could not match the times of the 'Thermopylae'. On her third voyage both ships met face to face. They left Shanghai on the same day, but 'Cutty Sark' lost her rudder during a heavy storm in the Indian Ocean. It took four days to construct and install a replacement rudder. The ship reached London a week later than the 'Thermopylae'. But nonetheless, crew and ship had shown a feat of outstanding seamenship: With a jury-rigged replacement rudder, they had sailed for 7,000 nautical miles within 60 days! The following voyages were not crowned by success either. Following eight years in the China trade, there came five years with different cargoes on different routes. In 1880 her masts and yards were shortened.
'Cutty Sark' again
Then, in1885, Captain Richard Woodgett took command, gave her a new rig, and the clipper now entered the UK/Australia trade, to meet again her old rival 'Thermopylae'. Under her highly competent master, 'Cutty Sark' became the fastest and most successful clipper of her days. The same year, 'Thermopylae’s time was beaten by seven days. After that, 'Cutty Sark' was always faster than her arch-rival and past winner. Even steamers couldn't keep up with her! In 1889 she outran the mail steamer 'Britannia' with a speed of 17 knots. Sold to Portuguese owners in 1895, 'Cutty Sark' carried cargoes until 1922. Then she became British again and served for a while as a stationary school ship. In1954 she was installed in a specially constructed drydock at Greenwich. Faithfully restored to her condition of 130 years ago, ‘Cutty Sark’ is still there as a museum ship and as the last witness of a great era. Anybody travelling to London should visit her.
On our page about figureheads you can read the legend of 'Nanni', the figurehead of the 'Cutty Sark', and why she had a bunch of hairs in her outstretched hand....

There are different opinions about which sailing ship holds the record for the longest day's run. The 'Champion of the Seas' is reported to have once logged 465 nautical miles, at an average speed of 19.4 knots. 'Lightning' made 436 nm, averaging 18.2 knots. And in the year 1900 the Flying-P-Liner 'Potosi' reached 540 nm, an average of 22.5 knots! However, these P-Liners, direct descendents of the clippers, are a special chapter of sea history all by themselves. Have a look to our 'Preussen' page ... and you will see why.

© 1998 - 2003 Bjoern Moritz, all rights reserved.

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