22 November 2009


when i was a lad, i spent much time outdoors, exploring the prairies and mountains of northwestern Montana. during those times when i was indoors, i could be found either reading voraciously (which i still do), or assembling models from kits. those models not only taught me about planning, constructing and artwork, they also seized my imagination. models ranged from military aircraft, classic cars and medieval knights to naval warships and sailing ships. of the latter, one of my very favorites was the Flying Cloud, a clipper ship built in 1851. clipper ships were designed for speed, with a long narrow hull, and billowing mountains of square-rigged sails mounted on multiple masts. they were merchant vessels, plying the trade routes that ran between the u.s. east and west coasts via south america's cape horn during the california gold rush, and also the routes to asia from the u.s. and europe. the Flying Cloud set a speed record of 89 days for the cape horn trip in 1853, a record for sailing craft that stood until 1989.

ultimately clipper ships, whose visual image blended an impression of immense speed with powerful grace, were replaced by steamships, and their doom was sealed by the construction of the suez canal, though elements of their design were incorporated into modern warships. today three clippers are known to survive. of those three, only the Cutty Sark remains in serviceable condition. it is being renovated to become a floating museum in greenwich, england.

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