Collection Spotlight

Flying Cloud

Prominently displayed in the Sailing Merchant Marine room at Houston Maritime is the model of the Flying Cloud, modeled by Ken Marshall. The Flying Cloud was an extreme clipper designed and built by Donald McKay at his shipyard in East Boston, MA, and launched in April 1851. The vessel’s commissioner intended the Flying Cloud to service the new California gold rush markets.

Although advertised as an extreme clipper, the Flying Cloud’s 40″ dead rise excluded her from this category of vessel. McKay built 38 clipper ships in his career, but only one, the Stag Hound launched in 1850, was technically an extreme clipper ship. As Lois Brugelios in “Sailing Ships: The Flying Cloud” notes, “it was popular to advertise clippers as ‘extreme’ because of the popular conception of speed” (The Maritime History Virtual Archives, 2003).

Six weeks after launching, the Flying Cloud set sail on June 2, 1851 for her first trip to California. Her maiden voyage set a world sailing record for the fastest passage between New York and San Francisco, via Cape Horn, in 89 days and 21 hours, anchor-to-anchor.

The captain for the first voyage was Josiah Perkins “Perk” Creesy, and his wife, Eleanor Horton “Ellen” Prentiss Creesy served as navigator. This husband and wife team remained in command of the Flying Cloud until 1854. Just to prove that the second record was not a fluke, they broke the record in 1853 with an 89 day and 8 hour trip, anchor-to-anchor.

The Flying Cloud continued on her California, China, and New York trade cycle until 1862 when she was sold to James Baines & Co., Black Ball Line, Liverpool. Her owners then placed her in the UK to Australia trade route. In 1871, the line sold her for the final time to Jonas Smith Edwards, South Shields, England, who placed her in the UK-Nova Scotia timber trade. On June 18, 1874, she ran aground on Beacon Island, Bar St. John, New Brunswick, making her end of service.

Excerpt from The Anchor Newsletter, April, 2016.

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