The Maritime Heritage Project

World Harbors from The Maritime Heritage Project in San Francisco.

News from the Port of San Francisco

The Deep Sea Derby

During 1852, 95 clipper 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. Clipper captains raced; 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 by Carl C. Cutler.American Clipper Ships.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 Dauntless that had cleared Boston Harbor the day before on her maiden run to the Golden Gate, the same day the Flying Dutchman departed 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.

New York Herald, October 12, 1852

Yesterday the beautiful clipper ship Wild Pigeon, Captain Putnam, hauled out of her berth, at the foot of Wall Street, and sailed for California. The bark Salem, Captain Millet, also cleared yesterday for the same destination. Both vessels have large and valuable cargoes. The agent of the first named vessel had to refuse some one thousand barrels, for want of room. The Wild Pigeon has only been in port twenty-nine days, and in the short space of twenty-eight working days discharged and received cargo, and is now again on her way to the Pacific.

On the other side of the slip, just evacuated by the Wild Pigeon, lies the Boston Clipper ship Flying Fish, Captain Nickels, also taking cargo for San Francisco. She arrived here some three weeks back, from Manila, and it is her first appearance in this port. She is of a similar model to the celebrated clipper ship Flying Cloud, and both constructed by the same builder (Mr. Donald McKay of East Boston) but has sharper ends, and is stated to be the sharpest vessel he ever launched. Like all clipper ships, she is filling fast, and will leave on or about the 23rd inst.

Independent of the above, there are seventeen other vessels up for the same port. Among these are the following beautiful new clippers yet untried: The Flying Dutchman, Contest, John Gilpin and Tinqua. The first two were built in this city — The Flying Dutchman by Mr. W. H. Webb, the other by Messrs. Westervelt & Sons; the John Gilpin, by Mr. Samuel Hall, of East Boston. The Tinqua was constructed by Mr. George Raynes, of Portsmouth, N. H.. She had not yet arrived here, but will make her appearance shortly, to commence loading in Mr. John Ogden's line of clippers, to which the Wild Pigeon and the Flying Fish also belong.

The other clippers also loading here for San Francisco are the Game Cock, Grey Feather and Tradewind, all first class vessels. The freighting business for California is at present very active, several of the new clippers having had a portion of their cargo engaged before they appeared at their berths. The clearances at this port for San Francisco, during the month of October, give one for every alternative day; ad from the first of last month up to the present date, the number amounts to twenty, including the clipper Comet, and other first class ships. The whole number from all our Atlantic ports during that period is thirty-six; which shows the great preponderating commercial enterprise of New York, over all the other commercial cities of the Union combined.

Daily Alta California, March 14, 1853

Reprints avaible by clicking on the image.

Antique Clipper Ship IV

The passages of our clipper ships have got to be so regular, that if the day of their departure from either Boston or New York be known here, their arrival can be calculated at this season of the year with a good deal of precision.

This fact is fully illustrated by the last passages of the Game Cock, 115 days from New York, the Telegraph, 115 days from Boston, the Meteor 100, and the Whirlwind 111 from the same place. Two of these ships came around by the new route, and laid down by Lieut. Maury, of the observatory at Washington, and tends greatly to recommend the adoption of that course instead of the old fashioned way of forelaying the northeast and southeast trades in the Atlantic ocean. In times gone by, when ships sailed about as fast as one could "whip a bug over a tarry shingle," it was very necessary to forelay, and if possible, get so far over to the European and African shores as to make sure of getting the wind abaft the beam after passing the latitude of 22 degrees north, and keeping it to 26 degrees south of the line, but now, since the introduction of improvements in ship building, and sparring, that a ship can make nearly as much headway close-hauled as she can on any other tack, and sail much faster with a beam wind, hundreds if not thousands of miles are saved by the direct course. It also exhibits a great amount of nautical skill and capacity to perform these voyages with such extraordinary regularity; for it proves that it is the result of science put into practice, and not of chance. It is highly probable that both of the other ships above mentioned took the same course.

Clippers taking part in The Deep Sea Derby and arriving in San Francisco included:

Bald Eagle (extreme clipper)

  • Built by Donald McKay, 1852
  • Arrived SF April 4, 1853
  • 107 days
  • Captain Phillip Dumaresq


  • Arrived San Francisco July 19, 1853
  • 114 days from Boston
  • Captain Howes


  • Designed by David D. Westervelt
  • Arrived SF February 24, 1853
  • 100 days from New York (and returned to New York in 80 days)
  • Captain William Brewster


  • Built by Benjamin F. Delano, 1852
  • Arrived SF February 12, 1853
  • from Boston


  • George Raynes Shipyard, 1852
  • Arrived SF April 13, 1853
  • 130 days from Boston

Flying Childers

  • Samuel Hall, Boston, 1852
  • Arrived SF April 7, 1853
  • 113 days from Boston
  • Captain Jeremiah D. White

Flying Dutchman (extreme clipper)

Reprints of the Flying Dutchman available by clicking on the image.
The Flying Dutchman
Charles Temple Dix
  • Built by William Webb, 1852
  • Captain Ashbel Hubbard

Flying Fish

  • Arrived SF January 31, 1853
  • 92 days/4 hours from New York
  • Captain Nickels

Game Cock

  • Pook design, Samuel Hall Boston Shipyard
  • March 10, 1853
  • 115 days from New York
  • Captain Hollis

Grey Feather

  • Arrived SF March 15, 1853
  • 126 days from NewYork
  • Captain Daniel McLaughlan

Golden Eagle

  • Hayden & Cudworth Shipyard
  • 110 days from Boston (lost time due to high seas past Rio De Janeiro)
  • Captain Samuel L. Fabens

Golden West (extreme clipper)

  • Paul Curtis, Boston, 1852
  • Arrived SF
  • 124 days from Boston
  • Captain Samuel R. Curwen

Jacob Bell

  • Jacob and Abraham Bell, 1852
  • Arrived SF April 10, 1853
  • 122 days from New York


  • E. & H.O. Briggs Boston shipyard, 1852
  • March 10, 1853
  • 113 days

Northern Light

  • Designed by Samuel Harte Pook, H.O. Briggs Boston Shipyard, 1851
  • 1853, 117 days from Boston
  • Her first passage around the Horn was 109 days under Captain Bailey Loring; this was her second passage at 117 days; she was taken back to Boston by Captain Hatch in 76 days, 8 hours.

Ocean Spray

  • Arrived San Francisco July 19, 1853
  • 143 days from Boston
  • Captain McLellan


  • Arrived San Francisco July 19, 1853
  • 212 days from Boston
  • Captain Bascom

Queen of the Seas

  • Arrived SF March 11, 1853
  • 119 days from Boston (with heavy battering at Cape Horn)
  • Captain Elias D. Knight

Red Rover

  • Fernald & Pettigrew, 1852
  • Arrived SF April 19, 1853
  • 117 days from New York (stormy passage; lost masts, yards and canvas)
  • Captain W. O. Putnam

Sovereign of the Seas

  • Extreme clipper built on speculation by Donald McKay, East Boston, MA
  • Launched June 19 1852
  • August 4, 1852 left for San Francisco; Arrived November 15, 1852, 103 days out from New York. The best day's run was 368 miles.
  • Captain Lauchlan McKay (Brother to Donald McKay)


  • Pook design, J.O. Curtis Medford shipyeard, 1852
  • March 10, 1853, 114 days
  • Captain C.W. Pousland

Trade Wind

  • Jacob Bell's Shipyard
  • Arrived SF February 24, 1853
  • 103 days from New York

Westward Ho (extreme clipper)

  • Donald McKay, 1852
  • Arrived SF January 31, 1853
  • 107 days from Boston
  • Captain Johnson


  • James O. Curtis Shipyard, 1852
  • Arrived SF March 11, 1853
  • 128 days from Boston
  • Passenger List

Winged Racer

  • Pook design
  • March 30, 1853
  • 108 days (105 days to the bar off of San Francisco; waited 3 days to enter the harbor)
  • Captain William Homen

The Cutty Sark and Thermoplye

Clipper ships in the Port of San Francisco August 2, 1853.Clippers were built for speed. This was not the only time they raced. The Cutty Sark and Thermoplye raced from the docks of Hongkew at Shanghai with 1,196,400 and 1,303,000 pounds of tea respectively. These were lighter loads than they would normally carry as "the race was on."

"As soon as the cargo came down, each ship became surrounded by tea lighters, for they were loaded in the stream. Sweating coolies, standing on stages, rigged along the Cutty Sark's black and the Thermopyle's green sides, hove the chests aboard to their mates in the holds amidst a continual sing-song of guttural Chinese chantying.

It was hot, steamy, S.W. monsoon weather, with sharp bursts of rain alternating with a damp fog, so that sail bending was left to the very last moment.

The Cutty Sark.
Cutty Sark
English School

Cutty Sark was the first to finish loading, the last chest being hurled aboard on the afternoon of June 17th. She got under way at 7 p.m. and dropped down as far as Halfway Point, where she had to bring up for the night.

Themopyle put the taupaulins on her hatches some time after dark that same night. The Woosung bar was crossed by both vessels the following morning, Cutty Sark being in the lead, and the beautiful Sir Lancelot, on her way to load at Foochow, was also in company.

The two clippers raced through nights at sea in monsoon weather and did not see each other again until July 15 off the coast of Borneo. Cutty Sark had the lead, but on July 19th, Thermopyle had gained a lead of 1-1/5 miles. From July 26, off of Keeling Cocos Island, they did not see each other again. Cutty Sark passed Thermopyle in the Indian Ocean. Cutty Sark had lost her rudder on August 15th, Thermopyle took the lead and was towed up the Thames to unload on October 18th, only one week ahead of her rival.

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Clipper Ships

The American-Built Clipper Ship, 1850-1856: Characteristics, Construction, and DetailsShips, Shipping, Migration, World Seaports.

Gold Rush Port.San Francisco waterfront commerce, ships, shipping history.
Gold Rush Port:
The Maritime Archaeology of San Francisco's Waterfront
San Francisco waterfront commerce, ships, shipping history.
James P. Delgado
Described as a "forest of masts," San Francisco's Gold Rush waterfront was a floating economy of ships and wharves, where a dazzling array of global goods was traded and transported. Drawing on excavations in buried ships and collapsed buildings from this period, James P. Delgado re-creates San Francisco's unique maritime landscape, shedding new light on the city's remarkable rise from a small village to a boomtown of thousands in the three short years from 1848 to 1851. Gleaning history from artifacts -- preserves and liquors in bottles, leather boots and jackets, hulls of ships, even crocks of butter lying alongside discarded guns -- Gold Rush Port paints a fascinating picture of how ships and global connections created the city.

A Historical Survey of the Boiler Makers' and Iron and Steel Ship Builders' Society, from August, 1834 to August, 1904San Francisco waterfront commerce, ships, shipping history.
OCR Reprint: Typos, etc.)

San Francisco waterfront commerce, ships, shipping history.
American Merchant Ships
San Francisco waterfront commerce, ships, shipping history.
Frederick C. Matthews

San Francisco waterfront commerce, ships, shipping history.
American Merchant Ships
and Sailors
San Francisco waterfront commerce, ships, shipping history.
Willis John Abbott
(Kindle Edition)

The Old Merchant Marine
A Chronicle of
American Ships and Sailors
San Francisco waterfront commerce, ships, shipping history.

Ralph Delahaye Paine

Ship Construction.San Francisco waterfront commerce, ships, shipping history.
Ship Construction, Sixth EditionSan Francisco waterfront commerce, ships, shipping history.
David J. Eyres
Ship Construction is a comprehensive text for students of naval architecture, ship building and construction, and for professional Naval Architects and Marine Engineers as a refresher on developments in ship types, safety and shipyard practices. From an introduction to ship building and to the finished product, the book follows the construction of a ship from start to finish. Eyres explores in depth development of ship types, materials and strengths of ships, welding and cutting, shipyard practice, ship structure and outfitting. This edition includes a chapter on computer-aided design and manufacture, and the latest international regulations and technological developments.

Ship Modeling from Stem to SternSan Francisco waterfront commerce, ships, shipping history.
Milton Roth

China Tea ClippersChina Tea Clippers.
George Frederick Campbell
The history of the China tea clippers is examined, especially their struggle in the 19th century for economic survival in the face of the steamships. It also details advances made in design, hull construction, rigging, sail plans and deck arrangements.

A Selection of Books
About Sea Captains

Ships, Shipping, Migration, World Seaports.

Johnson and Nurminen History of Seafaring.History of Seafaring.
The History of Seafaring:
Navigating the World's Oceans
Ships, Shipping, Migration, World Seaports.
Donald Johnson and Juha Nurminen

sea captains and ships.
Atlantic: Great Sea Battles, Heroic Discoveries, Titanic Storms, and a Vast Ocean of a Million Storiessea captains and ships.
Simon Winchester

sea captains and ships.
Shanghaiing Days: The Thrilling Account of 19th Century Hell-Ships, Bucko Mates and Masters, and Dangerous Ports-Of-Call from San Francisco
Richard H. Dillon
D. Michael Abrashoff

A Sea Captain's Adventures.
Seized: A Sea Captain's Adventures Battling Scoundrels and Pirates While Recovering Stolen Ships in the World's Most Troubled WatersA Sea Captain's Adventures.
Seized takes readers behind the scenes of the multibillion dollar maritime industry, as he recounts his efforts to retrieve freighters and other vessels from New Orleans to the Caribbean, from East Germany to Vladivostak, Russia, and from Greece to Guatemala. He resorts to everything from disco dancing to women of the night to distract the shipyard guards, from bribes to voodoo doctors to divert attention and buy the time he needs to sail a ship out of a foreign port without clearance. Seized is adventure nonfiction at its best.

Under Full Sail: Silent Cinema on the High Seas
collects five breathtaking films that preserve the romance, grandeur and allure of windjammers sailing open waters, exquisitely photographed in the style of the time.
The Yankee Clipper (1927), produced by Cecil B. DeMille and directed by Rupert Julian, restored to the most complete version available since the film s release, is a feature-length melodrama recreating the real-life race from Foo Chow to Boston for the China tea trade. The gorgeous production filmed at sea for six weeks aboard the 1856 wooden square-rigger Indiana with stars William Boyd, Elinor Fair and Frank Junior Coghlan. Renowned organist Dennis James, in his solo DVD premiere, accompanies the film on an original-installation 1928 Wurlitzer pipe organ, recorded at Seattle's Paramount Theatre.
Around the Horn in a Square Rigger (1933) was filmed by noted sailor and author Alan Villiers documenting the record-breaking 83-day voyage of the 1902 barque Parma from Australia to England in the 1933 Grain Race. Villiers writes: "We wanted to make a picture that would capture some of the stirring beauty of these ships, that would perpetuate something of the glory of their wanderings ... some glimmer of understanding of the attraction which they hold over those who sail in them." Music by Eric Beheim.
The Square Rigger (1932), an early sound short filmed as part of Fox s Magic Carpet of Movietone, shows life aboard the schoolship Dar Pomorza, The White Frigate. Built in 1909 as the Prinzess Eitel Friedrich, it was ceded from Germany to France as a prize of World War I, and was later donated to the Polish State Maritime School in 1930 where it served 50 years and trained more than 13,000 cadets.
Ship Ahoy (1928) is a unique record of the conditions and traditions of the North American lumber trade featuring an unidentified schooner equipped with a fore and aft rig as it transports lumber from the Carolinas up the coast to a northern port. Music by Eric Beheim. The collection is rounded off with a ten-minute sequence from
Down to the Sea in Ships (1922) documenting an authentic whale hunt from the 1878 wooden ship Wanderer out of New Bedford, Massachusetts. The camera-men risk their lives to capture practices unchanged since Herman Melville immortalized them in Moby Dick. Music by Dennis James.

Coming to America.
Coming to America:
A History of Immigration and Ethnicity in American Life
First Immigrants to America.
Roger Daniels

The Maritime Heritage Project provides free information on world migration and exploration during the 1800s. Please consider supporting The Project by purchasing from our sponsors and advertisers or

Kindly California stories.

Maritime History: Rare and Collectible Books