1851: A Clipper Ship Begins a Record-Breaking Voyage

June 2, 1851

The clipper ship Flying Cloud, making her maiden voyage, departed from New York City at 2:00 p.m. Under the command of Captain Josiah Perkins Creesy, the vessel went on to establish a new sailing record for the fastest passage between that city and San Francisco. 

After leaving New York City, Flying Cloud made her way around South America’s Cape Horn and towards California. The ship arrived near the Farallones, a group of islands and sea stacks serving as the entry point for San Francisco, at 7:00 a.m. on August 31. 

With a pilot boat guiding her, Flying Cloud eventually sailed a little further and dropped anchor off North Beach in San Francisco at 11:30 a.m. – completing the trip from New York City in just over 89 days and 21 hours, and in the process breaking the previous record of 96 days and 15 hours set by the clipper Surprise earlier that year. The Daily Alta California newspaper reported that Flying Cloud’s arrival in San Francisco “created a considerable degree of excitement, and crowds rushed over to the North Beach to obtain a view of her.” (The above painting of Flying Cloud was created in 1913 by maritime artist Antonio Jacobsen.)

With an ever-increasing number of people journeying from the eastern half of the United States to the then-new state of California to settle there, it became all the more critical for clipper ships to travel between both coasts as quickly as possible. In getting the ship safely to San Francisco, Captain Creesy was aided immeasurably by his wife Ellen. It was due in large part to her skills as a navigator that Flying Cloud weathered everything from strong winds to stormy seas to reach San Francisco in record time. Three years after that voyage, the seafaring couple enabled Flying Cloud to better her own time on the New City-San Francisco run by 13 hours. 

Image Credit: Public Domain

For more information on Flying Cloud, please check out Flying Cloud (clipper) – Wikipedia

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