The clipper's masts, which could reach as high as a twenty story building, carried more sails and more kinds of sails than any other ship that had been built by that time. This cloud of sails controlled by a complicated web of rigging rose above a sharp bow and a sleek narrow hull. The long lines of the ship combined with the enormous driving power of the sails allowed the ships to "clip" along at speeds that earlier generations of sailors never dreamed of, and later generations never matched.
Sailing 150 miles a day was considered a good day's run only a few years earlier, clippers traveled approximately 250 miles a day. The best of the clippers could cover more than 400 miles a day. Speed was important to clipper captains because speed meant a big profits for the owners and captains.
Thousands of people were eager to get to the California gold fields and would pay premium prices to get there by the fastest clipper ship. Once there, the miners would pay top dollar for the goods and supplies they needed from back east. The ships that brought the goods to California first could earn a fortune for the owners. Tea from China brought a good price in New York and London, but it had to be delivered before it lost its taste. Some enterprising merchants made their fortunes by shipping ice from the ponds and rivers of New England to the tropics where it was a rare and valuable luxury, but they had to get it there before it melted.
People of the late 1800's wanted a faster way of traveling from country to country, as well as from coast to coast. Clippers provided this opportunity and often challenged other clipper ships to races to see who could hold the title of "the fastest ship". The clipper ship was built for speed, not volume, as were the other merchant ships of the era.
There are many stories and poems about
clipper ship voyages. Some have the subject of romance, danger, or mystery.
Some just tell about the ships
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