The New Clipper Ship "Bald Eagle" of Boston

On the keel she is 195 feet long, between perpendiculars on deck 215, and over all 225; her extreme breadth of beam is 41 1/2 feet, and depth 22 1/2, including 8 feet height of between decks. In model she differs widely from any clipper which we have inspected. The rise and form of her floor are designed to obtain the greatest possible buoyancy consistent with stability and weatherly qualities. Her lines, too, have been formed upon the principle that when sailing by the wind, the pressure aloft will incline her, and to overcome the consequent angular resistance, is of the elements in her model. But whether sailing, inclined to the plane of the horizon, or at right angles to it, her lines have been calculated for both, so that she is expected to float more buoyantly and pass more easily through the water than any other clipper that has yet been built. At the load displacement line, she is sharper than any other clipper, and her lines, for twenty feet from the cutwater, are almost straight, but aft they swell into the convex, and blend beautifully with her fullness amidships. Her greatest breadth of beam is at the centre of her loadline, and her lines aft are decidedly convex. She is fuller aft than forward, upon the principle that, when passing rapidly through the water, she will be liable to settle aft, hence the fullness of the lines to buoy her up; and also, that the pressure of the water, as it closes aft, will actually force her ahead, and leave her without a ripple. Her model above is also designed with special reference to overcoming atmospheric pressure; hence she has little if any flare to the bow, (which is angular in its outline to the rail), low bulwarks,and a flush deck. Her bow is long, very sharp, and rises grandly in its sheer; and the cutwater isjust inclined enough to make her a perfect picture forward. She has a large gilded eagle on the wing, for a head, and it forms the best and most beautiful head that we have yet seen upon any clipper. The ends of her catheads are ornamented with gilded carved work; otherwise she is smack-smooth forward.

She has about three feet sheer, and sufficient swell or rounding of sides, to preserve the harmony of her lines, and she rises forward and aft with such easy grace, that even on the line of the planksheer, the eye cannot detect any wavering in its sweep. Her stern is slightly elliptical, inclined aft, and is formed from the line of the planksheer, the moulding of which and the strake below, form its base. It is very light, beautiful in outline, and tastefully ornamented.

. . .

So many beautiful clipper ships could be found in the early fifties amongst the shipping which lined the docks of New York's East River waterfront, that we will take a glance at some of the points of contrast between them and the old fashioned clumsy craft that they superseded.

Beginning forward, as is a sailor's bounded duty, let us take a look at the head gear. In the first place, the modern bowsprit steeves very much less than the old one. By this means the leverage of the head sails is greatly increased, and the ship looks better. It is not quite so comfortable, however, in reefing or furling the head sails. Next, the old ship always carried a heavy, awkward spritsail-yard, of no earthly use but to strike porpoises from, and to hang clothes upon to dry. This is now entirely dispensed with. A great, two-legged martingale also encumbered the head gear, while now a small delicate, single one is the style. The bobstays, bowsprit, shrouds, and other rigging in that vicinity were of heavy rope; now they are of chain or iron rods, equisitely neat and of ample strength, and when properly set up require no lifting for years.

Next noteworthy is the ground tackling. Instead of the neat chain now shackled to the ring on an iron-stocked anchor, there was a hard, harsh, hempen cable, bent on with all sorts of seizings to a great wooden stocked anchor. It was no child's play, in old times, to handle a ship's ground tackling. To "overhaul a range of cable" in cold weather, was a forenoon's job; now it is done in a few minutes. To heave it in of a cold day; and stow it away in the cable tier, was positively the very worst work a crew cound do. Now, a few minutes at the new-fashioned windlass and the anchor is apeak, and the cable let run into the chain boxes without delay. The old-fashioned ground tackling was not a great deal better in hot weather, though one's fingers did not get quite so benumbed in handling it. But even then it was a hard dispensation, for the worms and barnacles of the tropics and other warm latitudes would form colonies on the hemp cable; and it was Jack's Sunday privilege to give it a scrubbing, by just dropping another anchor under foot and heaving in the old one. Jack's theology obliged him to make an addition to a certain precept of the Decalogue, that read in this wise - "Six days shalt thou work and do all you are able, on the seventh heave up and scrub the cable".

In old times ships had no bulwarks forward of the fore rigging. It was all open there, why, heaven only knows. Now the bulwarks are much higher than the tallest man's head, and solid all around forming a capital breakwater.

A few feet further aft we come to the windlass, and here is a wonderful improvement. The old windlass was merely a large round piece of wood, with holes in it for handspikes, and a few iron pauls. It had no leverage power except that derived from the arm of the handspike. At this miserable machine the sailors had to heave and heave until they were exhausted, and even then they were frequently unable to lift the anchor. The modern windlass is an instrumental of great power, with brakes like those of a fire engine, by a few strokes of which the most firmly embedded anchor is lefted from its oosy bed.

Still passing towards the stern of the ship, the long-boat meets the eye. Formerly it was stowed directly over the main hatchway, requiring it to be removed before the cargo could be got at. Now it sits in its chocks from one voyage end to another, well housed over.

The Bald Eagle had a small top-gallant forecastle; and abaft the foremast a house 36 feet long by 8 wide. Its forward division contained a metallic life boat, placed on rollers, and the sides of the house were made to unship, so that the boat could be taken out upon either side of the deck, when required.

The galley too, is a different affair from that of olden times. It is more like a well-appointed kitchen than a galley. Many is the gale of wind in which the "doctor" (as the cook, even in those degenerated times was called) could not boil water enough in the old galley to mix with grog, what the crew felt in duty bound to drink to "Sweethearts and Wives" on Saturday nights. When the fires are put out in the galley of a modern built ship, it will be because she has taken a sudden freak to pay Davy Jones a visit in that unexplored locker of his.

On the quarter-deck the most important improvement is the steering apparatus; and very great is the dept due to mechancis on shore for the invention and perfection of the new wheel; it is now easy work to steer the largest ship, even by one man, and with accuracy too; but in old times it took two men when scudding, to keep the ship within an average of three or four points of her course. The rudder is now fastened to the stern-post with great strength and neatness, and cannot by any possibility get unshipped by accident.

Now let us cast our eyes aloft. Those iron trusses first attract attention. How freely the lower yard swing upon them; requiring no overhauling for stays, as did the old, greasy, creaking rope truss. Chain has taken the place of rope for topsail ties, topsail and top-gallant sheets, and iron rods for futtock shrouds. What with the large use of iron where rope was formerly used, and the superior manner in which shore riggers do their work, there is very much less work to be done on the rigging while at sea than of old. A ship is also handled easier in consequence.

It is curious to observe the difference in the management of matters on the day of sailing now as compared with olden times. Then the vessel hauled into "the stream", and anchored there, to remain a day or tow, to see that everything was all right, that nothing was forgotten; as well as to get the crew sober. When the captain found everything right, the crew tolerably sober, and the wind fair and the weather settled, he would loose his foretopsail as a signal to the pilot that he was ready to go sea. Whereupon a staunch, broad-beam and weather-beaten pilot would come on board and take the ship out. Now a steam tug fastens itself to the ship's side, and she goes to sea from her berth at the wharf. It would be losing too much time to sober the crew at anchor.

Transcribed by Lars Bruzelius

Sjöhistoriska Samfundet | The Maritime History Virtual Archives.

Copyright © 1996 Lars Bruzelius.