Clipper Ships: Maine’s Maritime Past

"Portrait of an American Clipper Ship" Lai Fong 

"Portrait of an American Clipper Ship" Lai Fong 

A significant part of the mission of Tall Ships Portland 2015 is to highlight Maine’s rich maritime heritage, to emphasize a lineage of sailing, boatbuilding and shipping that continues to this day. There was a time when Maine built some of the fastest ships in the world - swift ”clipper ships” that dominated the shipping world and made Maine craftsmanship a household name. 

"Some ships of the clipper era", by State Street Trust Company, Boston, MA, 1913

"Some ships of the clipper era", by State Street Trust Company, Boston, MA, 1913

Understanding the role played by clipper ships requires only a quick look at their name. Clipper Ships were vessels that were incredibly fast for their time, and moved “at a good clip” a phrase that is still used today. These ships allowed for rapid delivery of goods from distant places. Their speed meant they could deliver shipments and thus increase profits on shipments of teas, spices and silk from Asia to California or New York to California. The fastest of these ships was Red Jacket, a clipper ship from Rockland Maine that was renowned all over the country for what was considered blistering speed - in 1854, Red Jacket set the record for the quickest crossing of the Atlantic, sailing from New York to Liverpool in 13 days, one hour and 25 minutes. After accomplishing this feat, Red Jacket was a celebrity, and the Maine born ship was greeted by throngs of people whenever it docked, waiting to see the ship that crossed the ocean so quickly. 

Red Jacket  isn’t Maine’s only tie to clipper ships. Shipbuilding was a huge industry in 19th century Maine, and some 27 towns from Kittery to Rockland built clippers. The era of clipper ships lasted from the 1840s until 1869, when the completion of the Suez canal shortened some ocean routes. As a result, the speed of clippers became less important and they were replaced with slower ships that could carry more cargo than the relatively diminutive clippers. Today, the remains of the clipper ship Snow Squall reside in the Maine Maritime Museum, a fitting resting place for a breed of vessel bought to life in Maine. 

If you have interest in maritime history, Tall Ships Portland 2015 is the event for you! Come see beautiful tall-masted ships in historic Portland harbor, July 18-20th. Tickets on sale now!