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rudolph : clipper ships, 1974 

Wolfgang Rudolph : Clipper Ships, 1974.

Extracts from
Rudolph, Wolfgang:
Boats, Rafts and Ships
Translated from the German by T. Lux Feininger.
Adlard Coles Limited, London, 1974

Page 126

At the beginning of the industrial revolution towards the end of the 18th century, when the first steam engines were being built, the typical ship for transoceanic voyages was the East Indiaman.
These vessels were substantial three-masters of 40 to 50 meters overall length, carrying up to approximately 1500 tons deadweight ; flax sails were just beginning to be used, instead of hempen ones, and their underwater bodies were protected by copper sheathing for retarding tropical marine growth.
On the aftermost or mizzen mast, a square-headed gaff sail instead of the obsolete lateen sail was carried.
Their rudders were controlled by steering wheels.

Today, half a dozen vessels closely akin to this type still exist, doing duty as ship museums: foremost, the "Victory", built in 1759—1765, once the flagship of Admiral Nelson, now preserved at Portsmouth in a drydock.
The two American frigates "Constitution" and "Constellation", stationed at Boston and Baltimore respectively, likewise date back to the 18th century.

About the period mentioned, there began in the United States a development which in the 1830s was to revolutionize deep-water ship construction and was responsible for the ultimate flowering of worldwide navigation.
We are speaking of the clippers.
Several proven types of fast-sailing craft were the ancestors of the clippers: the sharp-built sloops of Bermudan and Jamaican waters, the luggers or lougres of Brittany, in which many Frenchmen had participated in the American War of Independence, also the fast schooners of Baltimore and Gloucester, which were renowned for quick cargo or fishing passages and had been successful both as smugglers and privateers.
Features of these types were incorporated in the clippers, to begin with, at the time when fast-sailing vessels were wanted in the United States for smuggling opium from India to China.

The origin of the term ''clipper" is controversial; whether it is derived from the verb, to clip; whether it must be traced back to the slang word "clipper" which means "a first-rate person or thing", has not been settled.
But the identifying signs of the clipper ship are unmistakeable.
They are vessels with a high, rising how, pronounced sheer, overhangs fore and aft; long and narrow hulls, of a beam-to-length ratio of 1:5, previously unheard of.
The masts were enormous, up to three-quarters of the length of the vessel.
Other equally important characteristics were concave waterlines at the ships' ends, permitting a wedge-like splitting of the waves forward, and an easy, flowing detachment of the turbulent water aft.
These are the features which all the capital windjammers combined, whose names were once familiar to all sailormen: "Rainbow", "Oriental", "Westward-Ho", "Great Republic", "Sovereign of the Seas", "Flying Cloud"—all of American build; and the English "Ariel", "Cutty Sark" and count less others.

Let us stress the fact that the clippers did not originate on the drawing boards of engineers, but were created by craftsmen, although with such care and knowledge as to raise them to the level of artists.
First a log was roughly dimensioned and shaped to the scale of the proposed ship, then the refinements were gradually added. When at last the lines corresponded in all aspects to the combined ideas of commissioner and builder the latter would saw his model into a dozen or so transverse slabs.
Each slab was then enlarged on the floor of the mould loft, to correspond to the actual dimensions and serve as a model for a rib mould.
The moulds were used to select the most suited naturally bent oak limbers from the carefully hoarded supplies in the timber yard, and according to these moulds the shipwrights shaped the ribs of the vessel.

Page 128

These were the times, both in Europe and the United States, of the first dawn of the science of shipbuilding technology, the age of the first vocational trade schools teaching courses in naval design, the first handbooks of technical drafting and calculations.
The most prominent builder of clipper ships, Donald McKay, who worked in Boston from 1843 until 1880, was rightly regarded in the United States as an artist of national rank.
Although his shipyard had steam-driven saws and wood-turning lathes, he continued to shape his models from his own craftsman-like experience, relying chiefly on his eye and hand.
McKay fitted his ships with the latest American inventions, which materially eased the labors of working the vessel: wire pendents for braces and wherever else possible, ball-bearing patent blocks and patent winches with geared cogwheel transmissions.

The history of the clippers is indissolubly connected with some typically capitalist enterprises: the opium smuggling trade of the thirties and forties of the 19th century; the gold rush to California which began in 1848 and which made the doubling of dangerous Cape Horn a routine matter, furnishing a theme for American advertising techniques (ill. 91); lastly, the intrusion of American ship owners in the tea trade from China to London after repeal of the British Navigation Laws, which previously had protected her domestic shipping interests.
In 1850 the first American clipper to win the "tea race" docked in the Thames; the passage from Hongkong to England had taken 97 days.
The freight earned by this record trip paid for three-quarters of the building cost of the vessel.

Page 128

Lithographs of gripping scenes of clipper
sailing - such as the finish of the Tea Race between "Ariel" and "Taeping" in 1866,
became in the 1850s and 1860s some of
the main features of illustrated newspapers
and magazines in Great Britain and, the U.S.A.

Produced in large editions and widely
distributed, they also became popular as domestic decorations.

To this day one of these prints occasionally
 turns up in some remote place on the
European coast, whence they had been
 brought by sailors returning home, who
had bought them in the souvenir stores of Liverpool, London
, Antwerp or Hamburg.

Rudolph, Wolfgang:

Boats, Rafts and Ships
Adlard Coles Limited, London, 1974

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