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Sea Captains: San Francisco 1800s

During 1852, 95 clippers ships along with ten clipper barques sailed from northeastern ports around the Horn for San Francisco. Seventeen of them made the passage in less than 110 days. This became "The Deep Sea Derby."

Clippers taking part in this "Deep Sea Derby" included the Flying Dutchman, Dauntless, Westward Ho, Northern Light, Queen of the Seas, Grey Feather, Whirlwind, Telegraph, Contest, Game Cock, Meteor, Winged Racer, Golden Eagle, Fleetwood, Jacob Bell, Flying Childers, Golden West, Red Rover, Peerless, and Bald Eagle.

Greyhounds of the Sea.Ships, Shipping, Migration, World Seaports.This remarkable contest has been described by the historian Carl C. Cutler in Greyhounds of the Sea: The Story of the American Clipper Ship, as representing "the very crest of the clipper wave."

The Flying Fish entered the Golden Gate on January 31, 1853, with the winning Deep Sea Derby passage of 92 days, 4 hours, anchor to anchor. There to greet her in San Francisco Harbor, was the Westward Ho,another McKay clipper that had been launched on September 24, 1852.

The Westward Ho had entered the Deep Sea Derby sailing from Boston twenty-two days after her launching on October 16, 1852, fifteen days before the Flying Fish; to chase after the Dauntlessthat had cleared Boston Harbor the day before on her maiden run to the Golden Gate, the same day the Flying Dutchmandeparted New York.

The Westward Ho had sailed around the Horn in 107 days arriving at the Golden Gate only a few hours before the Flying Fish,and her crew was rolling up her canvas as the Flying Fish arrived.

The Westward Ho had missed that mark set for her, but she did have a very fine run making it down the North Atlantic to the equator in 29 days, and 23 days on to 50 South. And from there, around the Horn in 13 days, quite remarkable time considering the fact that Captain Johnson was consistently drunk over the course of the voyage.

The following account is from a passenger said to be an experienced seafaring man:

Westward Ho ought to have done the run in 90 days. The captain was a drunken beast and remained in his cabin for nearly the whole passage, boozing on his own liquor and that of the passengers from whom he can beg and at last broke out the fore hold in search of liquor and found some champagne cider on which he boozed the remainder of the passage.

We were off the Plate River with a fair, strong wind headed east and north for several days until there was nearly a mutiny among the passengers. I finally told the mate to put her on her course, and we would back him up in any trouble. The captain never knew of any change; we lost at least ten days' time by such delays.

At one time after passing Cape Horn, we were running about N. by W., wind S.S.W., long, easy sea, and wind strong under topgallant sails, and she was going like a scared dog, her starboard plank sheer even with the water, two men at the wheel, and they had all they could do to hold her on her course. One day she ran over 400 nautical miles.

The drunken captain was at once displaced in Frisco and the mate who had navigated from Boston placed in charge. He made the run to Manila in 31 days.

Map San Francisco Bay 1850..

Relief Map of San Francisco Bay Area showing the entrance through the Golden Gate.


The Sea Chart

The Illustrated History of Nautical Maps and Navigational Charts The Sea Chart.The Sea Chart.
John Blake
The sea chart was one of the key tools by which ships of trade, transport and conquest navigated their course across the oceans. John Blake looks at the history and development of the chart and the related nautical map, in both scientific and aesthetic terms, as a means of safe and accurate seaborne navigation. This handsome work contains 150 color illustrations including the earliest charts of the Mediterranean made by thirteenth-century Italian merchant adventurers, as well as eighteenth-century charts that became strategic naval and commercial requirements and led to Cook's voyages in the Pacific, the search for the Northwest Passage, and races to the Arctic and Antarctic.

The Project

Maritime Nations, Ships, Sea Captains, Merchants, Merchandise, Ship Passengers, and VIPs sailing into San Francisco during the 1800s.



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Sources: As noted on entries and through research centers including National Archives, San Bruno, California; San Francisco Main Library History Collection; Maritime Library, San Francisco, California, various Maritime Museums around the world.

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