Clippers in NYHarbor: Robin Knox-Johnston

Happy April 22–the 40th anniversary of the Sunday Times Golden Globe Race the first round-the-world, solo, nonstop yacht race. The winner was Sir Robin Knox-Johnston.

Messing about in Boats’ began the tribute, and has good post on the boat Suhaili and observations: “Sailing is one of the oldest forms of transport but has evolved so much in 40 years that boats can travel long distance distance 400-500% faster. Is there any other form of transportation that has evolved as much?”

70.8%twilight4 has put up an encyclopedic post and interesting read. Oh! this one’s cool: from Invisible Workshop! and this one is elegant: from Tillerman.
Many others have joined the tribute…(look here for the muster! It’s all hands on deck!)

My RKJ celebration contribution is to share this book: The Twilight of Sail, Robin Knox-Johnson. First American Edition 1979, G.P.Putnam’s Sons, New York

Beautiful black & white photographs (over 120) of clipper ships, full rigged ocean flyers, from the mid 1850’s and on.
Fascinating history:

• the first real clipper ship, the Rainbow, built in 1845, ran from New York to Canton in record time: roundtrip – 6 months and 14 days,
• the China Tea Races and the Opium run from India to China spurred the building of faster ships,
• the British Navigation Act forbade the carriage of cargoes by any other than British ships. When it was repealed in 1849, it brought on a flush of American clippers, like the Oriental, which did HongKong to London in 97 days, with 1,118 tons of tea on board,
• the British fought back, launching the Aberdeen clippers, a race which they won by 1855 taking the trade back from the Americans,
• the only surviving British tea clipper is the Cutty Sark in a dry dock at Greenwich.


“The Procyon with [all sails] set…at 2,132 tons, one of the largest three-masted barques under the British flag, she distinguished herself on the maiden voyage by sailing to New York in fifteen days.”


The largest schooner ever built, the Thomas W. Lawson, was built in Quincy, Massachusetts…she “measured 5,000 tons gross and had a waterline length of 385 feet. Her seven masts were each 193 feet hight and carried nothing but fore and aft sails. All her halyards, topping lifts and sheets were led to two steam winches, one on the forecastle and one aft.” Only sixteen men were required to handle her.

“…the building of the Suez Canal and the establishment of a road across the Isthmus of Panama enabled steamers to move in on these lucrative routes and brought the great sailing-ship era to an end.”

For now. Who knows which way the wind blows? For the stubborn few who continue to dream, take a peek here and sign up for a stint to learn the ropes (if you don’t already know), for when clippers return, we will need you: ASTAAmerican Sail Training Association.

And keep an eye out for more companies sailing products from harbor to harbor, like this one: Compagnie de Transport Maritime à la Voile.

9 Responses

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  1. tugster said, on 2009/04/22 at 05:23

    impressive research across three centuries, two lovely aquarelles, and one intriguing wine to look for. merci

    (there’s a trend evolving here: schooners of ny, clippers of ny. Next could be tugs of ny, ferries of ny, uglyboats of ny….)

  2. […] takes a different angle in talking about RKJ’s book of the clipper ships, as ever accompanied by […]

  3. Mike said, on 2009/04/22 at 09:45

    What wonderful way to celebrate ‘Earth Day’ by celebrating someone who not only won the first, round the earth, single handed, none stop, sailing race but is also a truly humane person, an example to all of us!

  4. Mage Bailey said, on 2009/04/22 at 09:53

    Simply marvelous. Later over lunch I will follow your links. Thanks so much.

  5. naveganteglenan said, on 2009/04/22 at 14:50

    I will follow your links as well before going to bed (it’s almost 10pm CET 🙂 and the rest for the weekend !

  6. Mage Bailey said, on 2009/04/24 at 21:16

    Thanks so much for the note. Yes, I am more than glad I found that quilt too. I have grown fond of it, and it will become a regular part of my life as soon as I marry it with it’s back. I must admit, I was brokenhearted. There wasn’t a hope that we would find it, then there it was.

    Hugs at you.

  7. J.J. iruka Saitoh-Car'ee said, on 2010/04/29 at 04:41

    Aloha, Yes! indeed the “Return of the Golden Age”- of Sail/Kite/Wing/Foil- can we see a future of “Fleets” of the “Modern-Clipper-Ships”?!
    Excuse, can anyone out there bring us up-to-speed about San Francisco’s Community Supported vision in building a Replica of the Extreme Clipper Ship “Flying Cloud”?! We would like to come-on-board and offer to “kokua” in any way or fashion. mahalo, and yours for joyfull sailing experiences ciaou iruka-san.

  8. […] takes a different angle in talking about RKJ's book of the clipper ships, as ever accompanied by her […]

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