May 27, 2012

Ships worked to death

LANDLUBBERS OR SAILORS, most of us harbor romantic notions about the era of the clipper ships. They were the greyhounds of the sea in the age of sail, built for the ever-increasing speed that commerce and the industrial revolution were demanding. They were slim, light, beautiful ships racing under great clouds of sail. But I wonder how many people realize that every American clipper ship, almost without exception, was either completely or partially dismasted.

I happened on this fact in an article written in 1940 by Richard Maury, who blamed it on the rigors to which they were exposed.  “They were frantically bullied,” said Maury, “and, with all due respect to their masters, were beaten to death — as an old-timer might say — so much so that, after half a dozen voyages, they were usually in need of rebuilding.”

They were worked so hard, apparently, that “they were strained and buckled out of shape to reach the pots of gold in California and Australia. They were severely worked and their backs were broken until they had to be held in shape with chains secured around their side.”

Clippers were old ships in five years, and by the time they reached 10 they were no longer greyhounds but more like tortoises.  The very mania for speed that brought their beauty into existence turned out to be their death knell.

Chains around their sides, indeed. What an ignoble end for such elegant ships, surely some of the loveliest creations mankind was ever responsible for.

Today’s Thought
Allow time and moderate delay; haste manages all things badly.
— Statius, Thebais

What's the difference between a bankrupt attorney and a homing pigeon?
The pigeon can still make a deposit on a Mercedes.

(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday for a new Mainly about Boats column.)

1 comment:

KevinH said...

One would imagine there is a limit to what can be built using specific materials, and clipper ships may have found the limit for wood. The stresses on a large loaded hull in a seaway must be enormous and the scantlings and fastenings become too large. One wouldn't expect to see a supertanker made in the same way Thor Heyerdahl or Tim Severin constructed their vessels !