Sea History 088 - Spring 1999

Page 11


The American Clipper Makes Tracks on the Cape Horn Road-Pursued by the Bear Cub of the Ocean-Going Steamship by Peter Stanford


he new ship had raken shape nicely. Her long bl ack hull Ben nett, a keen yachtsm an himself, was ever alert rn New Yorkers' srnod crisply defl ned against rhe January sky, free ar lasr of lively interest in the ships that brought the seaport city its wealth rhe scaffolding rhar had covered irs lean flanks. T he and its population, both growing by leaps and bounds. clipper Rainbow was ready rn be launched from Smirh & Dim o n's The Rainbow had so me troub le on her fl rst C hina voyage. Four ya rd inrn rh e swirlin g gray ware rs of New York's Easr River. T he days afte r leavin g New York, o n 1 February 1845 under Captain ya rd, ar rhe foor ofEasr Fourrh Street, was already well known for John Land, she carried away her topgallanrmasrs, and it was reported irs river steamers and for fasr packe rs in the Ad antic trades. that she nearly drove herself under in high winds and seas. No netheBur rhe Rainbow was so merhing else, an innovarive vessel less, she made the passage rn Canrnn in the fast rim e of 102 days, design ed rn rhe rheo ries put forward by rhe yo un g naval archirecr in an adverse season, and establi shed a ro und-trip record of just John Griffirhs. Grifflrhs had defined rhe q uali ries needed in a fas t over seven and a half months. On her seco nd C hina voyage, she sailing ship in a speech deli vered at the American Institute in did even better, as Captain C lark relates: "She went o ur to China 1844. Two yea rs larer, the shipping firm of H owland & Aspin- against the northeast mo nsoo n in nin ety-two and home in eightywal l, leaders in rhe C hin a trade, had commission ed Smith & eighr days, br.i nging the news of her own arrival in Ca nrnn. " Dimon rn build G riffirhs's ship, as develo ped from his tests of In the meantime, however, rhe vereran packer driver Roberr H. model hulls in a rowing rank. And W arerm an had brough t Howard & now, at th e beginning of 1845, she Aspinwall's pac ket Natchez, built for was rn be laun ched at last, after mo re the So u rhern co tton trade, home from Old hands in the business than a yea r o n the srncks. H er co m pleC hina in 78 days-ten days faste r were skeptical about the new than the Rainbow. The Southern trade rion had been delayed by co ntention over her des ign. had bred up its own variety ofburdenideas visible in the lean, There had been a lot of talk about som e carriers that rraveled pretty fasr taut-lined hull. . . . Would she and "Bully" Warerman, as he was the vessel durin g her lo ng gestation, cleave the sea as intended, and this apparendy worried the ownknown (in an age when rhar word ers. Old hands in the busin ess were m eam jolly, dashing, firsr-rate), had a or simply drive those sharp skeptical abo ut the new ideas visible in habit of re- ri gging his ships at sea rn set the lean, ta ut-lin ed hull. One veteran bows under? more canvas-and a way of mal<ing remarked that she had her bow turned any ship go faster than she would in inside our. And indeed, she offered a the normal scheme of things. H e could, delicate hollow in h er bows, where robust apple cheeks had been ir was said, "rake a coal barge rn sea and bring her ho me in the rule. Wo uld she cleave the sea as intended, or simpl y dri ve creditable time looking, aloft at least, like a clipper. " rhose sharp bows under? From rhe ourser rhe clipper era depended not only on fasrs hips, Caprain Arthur H. C lark, who sailed in th e last days of the fast but on skippers who could drive the ships. Anorher grear skipper sa iling ships rhar he wrote about in his classic The Clipper.Ship Era in the growin g race rn C hina was Nathaniel B. Palmer, who sail ed (191 O), elegandy summarized G rifflrhs's changes in the accepted forrheAspinwall's ri val firm in rhe C hina trade, A. A. Low. Palmer idea of a ship as "a general drawing our and sharpening of the was a quierer man rhan rhe boisrero us Waterman, bu r no less forward body," bringing the point of greatest beam furth er aft effecrive. H e'd lea rn ed his trade in sm all vessels in rhe War of "than had hitherrn been tho ught practicable"-a truly breathtak181 2, runnin g rhe Brirish blockade from his narive porr of ing change in a world where the safety of the ship always has rn Srnningrnn, Co nnecticut. At age 20 he had taken the well- named come first, and change comes in slowly if at all. The Rainbow, sloop Hero, jusr 40 rnns, rn Antarcti ca rn hunt seals, whose skins C lark concluded, was "a radical departure differin g not merely in were America's most valuable export in the C hina trade. Sailing degree bur in kind far from any ship that had preceded her. " south in quest of fresh sealing gro unds in 1821 , he discove red the T here is, perhaps, some exaggeration in this statem ent. Ameri- Antarctic mainland. The Russian explorer Co mmander Bellingscan shippers, having learnt rhe val ue of speed in the fast packet hausen, sailin g Antarctic wa ters in the service of th e Tsar, ca me service inaugurated by the Black Ball Line, were wo rking up rn th e across rhe Hero and had the 22-year-old Palmer summ o ned rn the clipper co ncept before th e Rainbow's launchin g. But Captain great cabin of his fri gate, where he co ngratulated Palmer on C lark's pronouncement certa inly is true rn the sp irit of the age he discovering the new land "in a sloop but lird e larger than the was writing abo ut. What he sa id was indeed what people saw- launch of my fri gate." He nam ed the new land Palmer Land, the and what they proceeded ro act upon! name it carries rnday. "The Rainbow, a new clipper for the C hina trade ... holds out Palmer went o n rn co mmand New Orleans packers in the a promise of great speed," trumpeted Jam es Gordon Ben nett's boomingcorrn n trade in the 1830s, and then in rhe 1840s moved New York Herald as the ship at las t was launched in January 1845. on to the C hina trade. In 1844, homeward bo und from China in