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Speed bird; Maritime Tales by Stephen Guy of Merseyside Maritime Museum.

Byline: Stephen Guy

SHE was one of the greatest clippers from the Victorian sailing ship era but was eventually destroyed by fire while being repaired.

The Flying Cloud was owned by the US company Grinnell, Minturn & Co - better known as the Swallow Tail Line.

It got its name from distinctive house flags resembling bird tails. Grinnell's was split into the Blue Swallow Tail Line serving Liverpool and the Red Swallow Tail Line operating to London.

The Liverpool operation was launched in 1822 and London in the following year - both survived until 1880.

This was a family concern - co-founder Joseph Grinnell was one of six sons of a New Bedford, Massachusetts, merchant. Joseph's younger brothers Henry and Moses joined the firm and took over when Joseph retired in 1828.

A brother-in-law, Robert Browne Minturn - another member of the New England gentry - joined the firm about 1830.

The 1,750-ton Flying Cloud was built in Boston by Donald McKay and was launched in 1851. She had an extraordinary spread of sail totalling 10,000 yards of canvas. This ensured her speed in the competitive China tea trade when ships raced to be fastest bringing the new crop to port.

Like all thoroughbreds, Flying Cloud had to be handled with skill. The crew was specially-trained to handle the clipper incorporating new and improved designs.

Different types of sailing manoeuvres and procedures were repeated many times, particularly those requiring teamwork and split-second timing.

The new ship, with its vast amount of canvas, hit problems three days out on her maiden voyage.

Howling winds had kept the passengers below decks in their staterooms for most of the day. Suddenly there was a terrifying noise as the main topgallant mast came crashing down.

The captain told worried passengers to stay below while he investigated. He saw that the lower masts were luckily undamaged and ordered the crew into action.

They skilfully lowered the broken masts and yards down to the deck - including the 74-ft topsail yard which weighed more than two tons.

Flying Cloud, along with other clippers, was later re-rigged with heavier rigging and stronger spars. Such was the interest that samples of Flying Cloud's worn rigging were put on public display in 1852.

There is a fine model of the Flying Cloud in Merseyside Maritime Museum made by retired Liverpool shipwright Charles Carlson in 1933.

Flying Cloud originally plied the seas between Hong Kong and New York. In 1861 she was sold to the renowned Black Ball Line to carry emigrants to Australia.

She ended her days employed in the lucrative Quebec timber trade before her end came in 1874.

. ? Buy the Maritime Tales book (pounds 3.99) at the Merseyside Maritime Museum open seven days a week, admission free, and at bookshops, newsagents and merseyshop.com.

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CLIPPER: The Flying Cloud model
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Liverpool Echo (Liverpool, England)
Date:Jul 23, 2011
Words:470
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