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Thursday, November 23, 2017

Clipper Ship RAINBOW

Posted to Maritime Musings (by on January 13, 2015

The first extreme clipper

Clipper ships, as a recognized type of vessel, originated with small, fast ships operating out of Baltimore during the War of 1812.  Their sharp lines and deeper than usual keels allowed them to sail closer to the wind.  They were able to outrun ships of the Royal Navy blockade, but could not carry much cargo.  Their use spread after cessation of hostilities, but was largely limited to short-haul trade.  In 1840, the brilliant but eccentric New York naval architect John W. Griffiths proposed construction of larger clippers with more extreme lines.  Owners, masters, and fellow naval architects ridiculed the idea, saying that such a vessel would probably sink upon launching and would be unseaworthy.  In 1844, though, the firm of Howland & Aspinwall, a major and respected shipowner, contracted Griffiths to design such a ship.  It was built at the yard of Smith & Dimon, at the foot of Fourth Street on the East River in Manhattan, where Griffiths was the lead naval architect.  Construction proceeded in full view of passersby.  The ship and its designer became the butt of jokes and derision.  It was narrow, like other clipper ships, but the greatest breadth of the hull was in the midships section, rather than forward.  The most significant departure, though, from standard construction was in the bows.  The above-water portion of the bows was extended well beyond usual.  Further, the bows were concave, rather than convex.  Derision turned to grudging respect when, upon launching on January 22, 1845, RAINBOW sailed smartly around the bay.  Grudging respect turned to awe and envy when RAINBOW sailed to Hong Kong in 102 days and back to New York from Whampoa in 89 days, both records for the time.  RAINBOW made two other speedy roundtrips to China, quickly leading other naval architects, builders, and owners to scrap plans for traditional ships and to also build extreme clippers.  These fast ships, specializing in carrying tea and other high value cargoes, including opium, quickly drove traditional ships out of the market.  British and, to a lesser extent, other European shipyards soon followed suit.  RAINBOW, though, was not around to savor its glory.  On March, 17, 1848, it departed New York for China but never arrived.  It is presumed that RAINBOW was lost in a storm rounding Cape Horn.   

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