I grew up with sea stories. Dad sailed as a child and teen, and was in the Navy. I memorized sea chanteys as a child, and literally cut my teeth on a model of the Bismark (Dad wasn’t pleased.) One of my favorite books growing up was H. C. Holling’s Sea Bird, about the seas, sailing, and advances in nautical technology. Some time ago, Dad mused that perhaps if we’d lived closer to the sea, I’d have become a master mariner instead of a pilot. Who’s to say?
Sailing ships run in Dad’s family. One of his ancestors was Donald McKay, who designed and built a number of famous ships, including Flying Cloud.
Clipper ships were very fast American-designed sailing ships that were meant for the China trade, and are sometimes called “China clippers.” Most are associated with tea, and they carried high-value cargoes. You can tell by the picture above that, unlike whaling ships, they are not meant to have huge loads hanging off the sides, even temporarily. When the winds and seas cooperated, clippers could cover up to a hundred miles per day more than a “standard” cargo ship, which gave them a major advantage in terms of getting the tea before it sold out, and racing back to the US and elsewhere to get the best price for their cargoes. One clipper survives that can be visited, although it is in England. It is the Cutty Sark. It is named for the little shirt, “cutty sark” worn by the witch in the poem Tam O’Shanter.
Some years back, for reasons I don’t quite recall, I was poking around the ‘net and found a beautiful book about the Segelschulschiffverein. This is an international organization for teaching schooners, or literally “sailing-school-ships.” These include things like the U.S. Coast Guard’s Eagle, the Großherzogin Elizabeth, and other “tall ships,” that serve as floating classrooms for teamwork, sailing skills, and navigation. All are multi-masted sailing ships, some owned by countries, some by individuals, and some by charitable or education foundations. Every year there are gatherings of these ships at various places around the world. Not every tall ship goes to every event, but just getting to see two or three of them under way is a treat.
If you are ever in Rostock, Germany, there is a place that does “vintage” (as in medieval and later) sailing tours. Yes, most of the ships also have motors, since the wind does not always cooperate with sailing schedules, but if all goes well, you get to sail the Baltic for a day or two, or a few hours (smaller ships). I didn’t get the chance, but it was neat to see the masts poking up behind the edge of the city. If you are really determined, in August is an international “Hansa Sail” festival.
I’ve never gotten to sail on a full-rigged ship. I’d like to some day, but that involves saltwater, sunlight, and other things that are not congenial to my coloring. But who knows?