Continued from The Era of the Clipper Ship – Part 1
The master, though not the originator, of clipper ship design was Donald McKay, an American of Scottish extraction. His first ship, the Stag Hound, was the largest merchant ship ever built at the time of her launching in 1850. She was 1,534 tons and made the run from Canton to New York in eighty-five days. His second ship, Flying Cloud, made the run around Cape Horn to San Francisco in eighty-nine days, twenty-one hours. Three years later she excelled her own record by thirteen hours. These sailing records have never been equaled. The clipper Lightning once made 436 nautical miles in twenty-four hours, a still unbeaten record for a sailing ship.
“The whole art of sailing was rapidly improving,” says J.M. Scott. It would be a shame to paraphrase this passage of his from The Great Tea Venture:
The ships were not everything, of course. Designs can be copied. Whether they were a success or failure rested with the officers and crew who not only had to force the vessel to the limit, and keep her at that pitch for three months or more – a sufficient strain in itself – but also maintain spars and rigging in racing trim. What sort of men were these? . . . They were experts at their craft, but simple souls. To them, the land was a place to get drunk and make love on. The sea was their profession. They were warmhearted, impulsive, superstitious, brave, unruly – qualities accentuated by a life that seemed to prevent them from growing up as far as responsibility was concerned. They were constricted like boys at school, with no feminine influence – except the ship. Their days and nights were governed by certain rules which, being concerned only for with the efficient running of the ship, had no moral basis . . . Their masters were by no means always models of morality and sobriety. But in the better ships at least both officers and men loved their ship with a fanatical loyalty. You might more safely insult a sailor’s woman than his ship. In the race of 1866 one clipper crew to a man backed their ship with a month’s pay to beat their chief rival.