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Clipper Ships and the Golden Age of Sail: Races and Rivalries on the Nineteenth Century High Seas

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Clipper Ships and the Golden Age of Sail: Races and Rivalries on the Nineteenth
Century High Seas


By Sam Jefferson

8-3/4” x 11-1/4”, hardcover, ix + 230 pages
Illustrations, maps, diagrams, index. $45.00
ISBN: 9781472900289
The title and the last two paragraphs of Chapter One advise that this book
focuses on captains and is a selection of true fo’c’sle stories. The stories are illustrated
with a remarkable collection of old and new art and photographs which depict the
clipper ship era magnificently reproduced in color, and dominate the book. The
production and manufacture of the book is to a very high standard.
The author, who concentrated solely on the prose and pictures, left the book
devoid of any technical detail regarding the development, design, and construction of
clipper ships; with the only exception being a brief outline in the first chapter. Rainbow
was born from more radical Baltimore clipper designs, with no mention of e Ann McKim;
the topsail and the topgallant are depicted as whole and then split; and the ships
progress from wood to composite to iron, with no explanation within the book for these
developments. The book focuses on the tales of the times and the art depicting the era.
Not enough technical detail could be included to satisfy the typical Journal reader
without detracting from the real focus of the book.
The readers are the beneficiaries of a professional writer’s passions for the sea
and clipper ships. Jefferson’s Clipper Ships is excellent story telling. The sea, ships, and
crew are hard task masters, but for the right personalities, glory is to be found.
However, with the loss of vigilance and the accession of untempered arrogance, failure,
disaster, and death await. Concentrating on the lives of clipper captains, the author
provides several of their biographies, some of whom are doomed to ultimate failure
while others gracefully leave the sea or remain upon it. The book includes some of the
voyages of all of the great clippers of America and Britain which begin with the
necessity for speed to reach California through the domination of speed from China to
London during the tea races in the 1860s.
Jefferson really hits his stride in the telling of the Great China Tea Race of 1866
(Chapter Six) and the incredible passage of Sir Lancelot in 1869 (Chapter Seven). He
succeeds in placing one on the deck of a great ship and wonderfully conveys the
excitement and the anxiety of an event. For a writer of non-fiction, always a neat trick.
The value of this book to a ship modeler or a researcher is that it allows one to
immerse oneself in the lore of the clipper ship era. The book provides sufficiently
detailed art credits to allow further research into the selection of a clipper before
selecting a model to build. Do not limit yourself to Cutty Sark or Flying Cloud. A most
beautiful book and an easy, short, enjoyable read.
Phillip A. Roach
Naples, Florida



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