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The Cutty Sark , one of the last of the tea clippers
Plan of the Baltimore Clipper Flying Fish

A type of fast cargo sailing ship that originated in the United States and had its heyday in the middle of the 19th century is referred to as a clipper (from English clipper ) . Its most noticeable features were a sharply cut bow with hollow lines (clipper bow), strong ground lift, a narrow width in relation to the length of the ship and high speeds that can be achieved . These features resulted in restricted cargo space in favor of speed. The masts, poles and yards were relatively large. Additional leeward sails were often used. This extensive rigging required a large number of crew. In the Russian Navy the prefix "Klipper-" was taken up as a designation for particularly fast sailing ships, depending on the size and rigging there were "Klipper Corvettes" or "Klipper Frigates".

Development history

The immediate predecessor of the clipper were the Baltimore clippers , which appeared in the USA since 1832 . These were based on the French frigates and Lugger, which served as blockade breakers in the American War of Independence . The Baltimore clippers were already sharply cut at the bow, as is typical of the clippers, but had little loading capacity compared to the real clippers that followed. The Scottish Maid from 1839, from Aberdeen , Scotland , looked very similar to these Baltimore clippers. It was Great Britain's first clipper and, like Ann McKim , built in 1833 , is a direct precursor to the clipper . Another significant difference was the rigging: the Baltimore clippers were rigged as yard schooners, the real clippers, however, mostly as full ships, occasionally also as barges .

At the beginning of the 19th century it was profitable for New England shipowners to load small, fast ships with ice from their ice cellars in the summer and sail at high speed to the Caribbean and sell the ice there to wealthy plantation owners . These ships can also be regarded as forerunners of the clippers.

Launched in 1845 at Smith & Dillon in New York, the Rainbow is considered the first extreme clipper. Designed by John Willis Griffith , the ship had a length-to-width ratio of 5 to 1, a sharp bow that cut into the waves and a bulbous stern. It deviated from the traditional hull shape with a broad, cod-shaped bow intended to ride the waves, and a mackerel-tail-like stern. Contemporary critics feared the narrow bow would plunge into the waves, a concern that turned out to be unfounded. With the transition to composite construction (steel and wood combined, e.g. steel frames and wood planking), the ratio of length to width increased to 8 to 1.

The clipper's field of activity was the transport of goods that had to get to their destination quickly, such as tea, wool, fruit and even ice, as well as mail; They were also used in the profitable slave and opium trade.

Location of the roaring forties and the neighboring zones as part of the clipper route

With the clipper, slim and streamlined hulls with the sharp and inwardly curved clipper bow (sickle bow) came into use, which is also said to have given the ships their name (from "clipping the waves" = cut the waves). Another, more likely, derivation is from "to clip" = move quickly, cut off, shorten. Clippers were mostly full ships , more rarely barges . Examples of the latter were the Monkchester and the Phoenician . There was even a four-masted clipper barque, the famous Great Republic made by master shipbuilder Donald McKay of East Boston . He designed u. a. also the clippers Flying Cloud, Flying Fish, Jaimes Baines, Lightning, Sovereign of the Seas, Romance at the Seas, Empress of the Seas, Champion of the Seas, Donald McKay, Glory of the Seas . His Flying Cloud , built in 1851, was 1,783 GRT and reached an Etmal of 433 nautical miles (approx. 800 km).

On their travels, the clippers also came to Great Britain, where they were soon replicated. With the clipper came a time of record hunting after increasingly shorter travel times on common routes, e.g. B. from the east coast of the USA to San Francisco around Cape Horn , on the tea trips from China and India to England and then in the wool trade from and to Australia on the Clipper route . When the gold fever broke out in San Francisco in 1848 , many clippers sailed there from the east coast with household goods and soldiers of fortune and had to be abandoned because the whole crew disembarked.

Wedding of the clipper and subsequent loss of importance

In 1848 rich gold discoveries were made in California. The previously insignificant whaling base in San Francisco became the starting point for many gold seekers. Many crews of the whalers and other ships deserted and went in search of gold. The flows of immigrants and their supplies could only take place by long, unsafe routes over land or by sea around Cape Horn. This encouraged the construction of fast ships on the east coast and led to a boom in clipper construction. This process was repeated after gold was found in Australia in 1851.

After an interim crisis from 1857 to around 1861 with the resulting oversupply of cargo space, there was another boom in clipper construction. For reasons of economy, however, the ships were usually smaller or less sharp.

Some clippers have become famous through the annual "Great Tea Race" from China to London such as the Great Tea Race of 1866 or the race between the Ariel and the Taeping in 1868. The ship that carries the first load of the new Tea harvest from China could land in England, fetched a very good price for the freight and a premium. The race of 1872 between the Cutty Sark and the Thermopylae became legendary , the latter only winning by a week, although the Cutty Sark broke the rudder and the crew had to install an emergency rudder on the high seas . These tea clippers were under 1000 RT and were built from 1850 to 1870. After the Suez Canal opened a new and shorter route China - England, which did not bring sailors any advantage because of the unfavorable wind conditions, the steamships overtook the clippers after 1880 as tea ships. After all, they were used to transport cheap and bulk goods -  guano from Chile or wool from New Zealand and Australia. Some ended their careers under the Norwegian flag such as the Blackadder in Bahia in 1905 or the Fiery Cross (built in 1860 with steel masts and Cunnigham patent bars served from deck) Ellen Lines in 1893 off Whitehaven .

The Flying Cloud clipper based on a painting by James E. Buttersworth

The ships were initially built entirely of wood and, because of the pursuit of records, were sailed to the limit, so that their lifespan was relatively short. The British partially replaced the rarer and therefore more expensive wood with iron in their clippers and thus introduced composite construction : internal structures made of iron with traditional wood planking, which was covered with copper sheet to prevent vegetation. That led to more permanent ships. Few of the clippers survived into the 20th century. The Cleta, built in Sunderland in 1866, existed until 1937, and the Cutty Sark (launched in 1869) and the City of Adelaide alias HMS Carrick (launched in 1864) have survived to the present day . The latter was built for emigrants and wool trips to Australia. The only surviving tea clipper of this type, the Cutty Sark, was on view as a museum ship in Greenwich until it was badly damaged by fire during restoration work in 2007. After the restoration, it was reopened on April 25, 2012.

The American clippers on the routes from the east to the west coast of the USA around Cape Horn lost their importance when the First Transcontinental Railroad was completed in 1869 .

In the second half of the 19th century, the clippers were replaced by the steel windjammer , which was usually a little slower, but more durable and offered higher loading capacities with a smaller sailing crew. Their fast representatives are often incorrectly called clippers in the literature, e.g. B. the fast saltpeter freighters of the shipping companies F. Laeisz ( Flying P-Liner ) and Antoine-Dominique Bordes & Fils. Another competing type of sailing ship was the schooner , which had more storage space with comparable dimensions and, thanks to its gaff rigging, managed with a fraction of the crew of a clipper, because storage space was more important than speed when transporting non-perishable bulk goods. In the end, technical advances worked to the disadvantage of the clippers, especially due to the increasing operational reliability of steamers and their greater punctuality. The use of steel, especially rolled steel , in shipbuilding also made it possible to build ever larger ships which, in terms of propulsion, could no longer be designed as sailors.

The Klipper (Klipper-Aak) is also a Dutch flat-bottomed coastal freighter with side swords, which was mainly built at the end of the 19th century and used in the Dutch inland waters, the Wadden Sea of ​​the North Sea to England and the Baltic Sea.

Famous clippers (selection)

  • Flying Cloud (1851, American clipper, D. McKay); Demolished in 1875, burnt down to remove its metal parts
  • Challenge (1851, American clipper, William H. Webb); Sunk in a storm off Ouessant , France, in 1877
  • Flying Fish (1851, American clipper, D. McKay); Record run 1852/1853 New York - San Francisco in 92 days against the Wild Pigeon (118 days), John Gilpin (93.8 days) and Trade Wind , stranded at the mouth of the Min in 1858, condensed and in Guangzhou (Whampoa) as El Bueno Suceso (The Good Success) rebuilt, sunk in the China Sea
  • Sovereign of the Seas (1852, American clipper, D. McKay); Wrecked in the Malacca Straits in 1859 on a journey from Hamburg to China
  • Red Jacket (1853, American clipper); drove on the Austral route, 1868 on the transatlantic route (wood), after 1880 as a coal hulk on Cape Verde
  • Great Republic (1853, American 4,555 GRT four-masted clipper barque, D. McKay); After the fire in 1855, it was launched in a reduced size, sunk in 1872, the largest wooden ship in the world
  • Lightning (1854, American clipper, D. McKay) of the British Black Ball Line by James Baines of Liverpool , burned down on the pier in Geelong in 1869
  • Champion of the Seas (1854, American clipper, D. McKay) of the British Black Ball Line, with an Etmal of 465 nm (861.18 km in 24 hours = 35.88 km / h) in December 1854 holder of the sailing ship record for about 130 years.
  • Jaimes Baines (1854, American passenger clipper, D. McKay) of the British Black Ball line from James Baines, Liverpool
  • Glory of the Seas (1869, American clipper, D. McKay); last McKay clipper, floating canned salmon factory in 1911, burned down in 1923 because of its metal parts
  • Taeping (1863, English tea clipper); Missed on a trip to China in 1872
  • Ariel (1865, English tea clipper); Wrecked in the China Sea in 1871
  • Thermopylae (1868, English tea clipper), sunk in 1907 as a former coal hulk
  • Cutty Sark (1869, English tea and wool clipper) preserved

Replicas of clippers:


  • Wolfhard Weber : Propylaen technology history, third volume, networks steel and electricity 1840 to 1914. Propylaen Verlag (Ullstein book publishers), Berlin 1997, ISBN 3-549-07113-2 , p. 141 ff.
  • Basil Lubbock: The China clippers . 2nd edition. Publisher: James Brown & son ltd. Glasgow 1914
  • Basil Lubbock: The colonial clippers . 2nd edition. Publisher: James Brown & son ltd. Glasgow 1921
  • Wolfgang Hölzel, "Klipperschiffe of the 19th Century", Hinstorff-Verlag, 1984

Web links

Wiktionary: Klipper  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Commons : Klipper  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Frank W. Geels: Technological Transitions and System Innovations, Edward Elgar Publishing, Cheltenham, 2005, p. 123.