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What happened to the China clippers?

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January 14, 2008 4:52PM

The Americans were the first to build clipper ships for the

China trade, racing from New York, round Cape Horn to San Francisco

and on to China. Most of these ships were built of softwood and the

strain of perpetual fast sailing and carrying as much sail as they

could ruined them on a short space of time. I don't think any have

survived.

The British followed from the 1850's to 1870's. Most of their

ships were build of teak and therefore stood up to the battering of

racing much better. From the 1860's, these ships were built on the

'composite' principle - iron frames with teak planking. These ships

were very strong. Toward the end of the period, some iron clippers

were built and some were both very fast and very strong, though

they suffered from fouling of their hulls. Every year from the mid

1850's to about 1872 a fleet of these vessels raced from China to

London with the first of the season's teas since the first ships

into London commanded a very high price for the tea. The only

clipper to remain completely intact (except for a recent very bad

fire) is the Cutty Sark, permanently moored in dry dock at

Greenwich near London.

A very good history of both the American and British clipper

fleets is given in Basil Lubbock's book 'The China Clippers'

published in 1914 and long out of print, however a good local

library might be able to get hold of a copy.


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