Sea History 014 - Summer 1979

Page 18

A Distinctive American Creation ...

The Baltimore Clipper from lessons learned in researching, designing, building, rigging, and sailing a true Chesapeake type, the Pride of Baltimore.

By Melbourne Smith The arteries of existence for the American colonists lay upon th e wa ters a nd it was a necessity to develop fast sailing craft to outsail a nd outwit the might y British fleet. This was accomplished through an ingenious depa rture from th e po nderou s European a pproach to na val a rchitecture. The graceful vessels that resulted fr om this necessity, reached th eir o ptimum during th e War of 18 12 and became known as Baltimore clippers. Their simple clean design may ha ve been influenc-

ed by earlier Bermudian shipwrights but this is not cert ain . It was on th e sho res of C hesapeake Bay th at the type o f hull was developed and th eir lofty rig crea ted . The vessels were not large, proba bly less th a n sixty feet when th ey first appea red as pilot boats racing out from the Virginia Ca pes to meet incoming ships. Pilot cra ft had to be fast, seaworth y, a nd simple to ha ndle to compete in th at calling . Often th ey would ha ve to spend man y days on sta tion, risk th e possibil-

ities o f foul weath er; and return to po rt with o nly a few ha nds a board a ft er discha rging their complement of pilo ts. The boats built o n this Virginia model did not have to consider cargo capac ity a nd th e hulls were give n great deadrise, good beam, a nd a lo ng clea n run . They were ri gged as schooners, usuall y with o ut shro uds staying th e masts. The absence o f shrouds may a ppear fri ghtening and eac h mast was ra ked a t a devilish angle. The for emast was placed well fo rwa rd a nd th e fo resail was boomless; th e loose-foo ted sail overl a pped th e main a nd sheeted to th e ra il. It was from this Virginia pilot model th a t th e C hesa peake clippers bega n. To fur ther th eir versatility, more spa rs a nd sails were added . To pmasts were ri gged aloft , th e bo wsprit was extend ed with a j ibboom , and yards were crossed to spread squaresa ils. Shrouds became a necessity to suppo rt th e extra weight a nd strain. The additional sail a rea soon reached unh eard o f pro portions but this was to be their triumph a nd sal va ti o n; th e cra ft could sail in the lightest of airs when th eir cumbersome adversaries or victims were becalmed . It was o ften th eir undoing too as th e great rig was somew ha t frail

Th e pilot schooner A nn of N orfo lk, circa 1825.