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Frank Morris
Frank Morris. 03 May 2023

Clipper Days - when sailing ships thrashed their way across the seas

The Clippers were referred to as “racehorses of the sea.” Modern thought it may be, there is a group of people who considers them slow. But, with all conditions at sea, they were supa-faaaaast!

Sailing ships spread their white sails and set forth for the other side of the world. There were no cables up until the 1860s. They held the place which the cables hold today. The sailing ships carried mail, passengers and merchandise.

The Clippers were the winged messengers of man. The loveliest of them all were the clippers. The mightiest of them were supa-fast.

In 1855 the Lightning, champion ocean flier of all time, reeled off 450 miles in 24 hours. She carried all her sails in a strong gale. Many modern liners, with the exception of the giants, can maintain an average of nearly 19 knots.

The Flying Cloud made a brilliant run in 1851. She sailed New York to San Francisco in 89 days, sailing 17,597 statute miles at a speed of 222 miles each day. The Red Jacket, a softwood ship built at Boston in 1853, logged 413 miles in one day.


Main: The Cutty Sark, under full sail.

Flying Cloud made New York to San Francisco in 89 days.

Built for Mr John Willis, the Halloween won the China tea-clippers’ race in the years 1873 to 1875. She beat those swift “racehorses of the sea”, the Cutty Sark and the Thermopylae. Thermopylae was faster in heavy weather than in light.

A tea clipper, which was launched in 1868, Thermopylae was built as the famous rival of the Cutty Sark. She made 10 trips to Melbourne from Sydney, the quickest in 60 days.

Thermopylae was scuttled by Portuguese owners in 1907.

Port Jackson, the great four-master owned by William Duthie, swept across the Pacific, from Sydney to San Francisco, in 39 days.

This beautiful barque is best remembered as one of Devitt and Moore’s cadet ships. She was built in 1882. She spent most of her career trading between the Old Country and Sydney’s harbour, whose name she bore.

Lightning, a champion ocean flier for the time.

While on a voyage from Buenos Aires to London, Port Jackson was sunk without warning by a German submarine on April 28, 1917. She suffered the loss of her master and twelve of the crew. Her mate and 14 men were saved.

The name of the Cutty Sark will ever ring a bell when the last windjammers have gone to their grave. Or better still, when oil has displaced coal and when man harnesses some force to displace electricity.

The Cutty Sark, holder of records, and her fame will live for ever. She rides today in an English harbour, a relic of the past and a memorial to magnificent days.

Reconditioned and rerigged, she was purchased by Captain Dowman in 1924.

 Yes, indeed, in those old days the clippers were the racehorses of the deep. The skippers bore names which were bandied on men’s mouths even more than those of the famous cricketers, jockeys and sportsmen of the present day.

<< Adapted Frank Morris from Clipper Days, which appeared in The Sydney Mail, 1930.

Cutty Sark - Aboard the Fastest Clipper ship

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