Capt. Arthur David LINKLATER

A few extracts from

Falmouth for Orders. The Story of the Last Clipper Ship Race around Cape Horn

A. J. Villiers [London, Geoffrey Bles: 1929]

Steamships can in normal circumstances expect an average freight of about forty to forty-five shillings per ton, [whereas] the sailing vessel can always be chartered for at least ten shillings less. [p. xvi]

In spite of all this, [rising costs, trade slump, steam competition] some owners find themselves [c. 1927] able to run windjammers in the old way and still make quite a comfortable profit, conspicuous among them being [the Finns]. [xviii]

Among the many sailing ships that were built in the [1890s] and in the first few years of [the 20th] century there were not so very many smart ships. The sailing ship was not then built for speed; to carry was the main consideration when their plans were prepared. Few of these great steel windjammers were built with an eye to their sailing qualities. They came at a time when carrying capacity counted for infinitely more than speed. [p. 6]

Though the actual operation of putting the ship on her new tack may take only six or seven minutes, the work entailed before and after may well occupy an hour. [p. 67]

The mast of a square rigged ship is in three pieces. The first is the lower mast; the sails on this are the biggest sails in the ship - the foresail, the mainsail, and the cro'jack. Next comes the topmast, which isn't really the top mast at all - that would be too easy to understand - and on this are set the topsails, two to each mast. The lower is called the lower topsail and the upper one the upper topsail. Above the topmast is the topgallant mast, which carries the two topgallant sails and the royal, which is appropriately highest of all. Originally there was only one topsail - a huge half-acre of canvas that cost men their lives when it had to be handled - and it was split into two merely for handiness. Similarly with the top-gallants which are now usually two rather shallow sails in all big sailing ships. [p. 76]

It is doubtful if there are now, in the early months of 1928, more than thirty big square rigged ships in commission and ready for sea; if at any time now there are more than fifteen actualy at sea it is an extraordinary state of affairs. Since the utter collapse of sail in the lean years that followed the war, [1914-18] the policy of practically all shipowners has been to scrap their sailing ships as fast as they could get anything like a fair breaking-up price for them. Even Finland, which had always been considered the best home of the British square-rigger, looked upon the tall ships askance, and most of the Finn shipowners, too, joined in that colossal discard. [p. 123]

During the war period [1914-18] there was a good deal of money to be made out of sailing ships, so long as they could be kept out of the danger zone, and many of the ships ... proved most profitable for their owners. [p. 126] [The principle hazard being German u-boats]

In July 1926 there were six big deepwater sailing ships left under the flag of the United Kingdonm. Now [1928] there is one. [p. 141]

It would require the whole of this book fully to describe the causes of the debacle of square-rigged sail that followed the war, and the effects of it. When world freight markets were so dull and steamships so plentiful, it was only to be expected that the weakest, the oldest, and the least economical vessels would go to the wall first. With steamers laid up literally by the hundred, and searching for cargo literally by the thousand, it was not to be expected that the big sailer would stand much chance of survival. Nor did she.

For a short twelve months after the end of the war, when wheat was being rushed from all countries that could spare it to starving Europe, and long-booked cargo was searching for any kind of a bottom for delivery to waiting consignees, the square-rigger kept the seas. Indeed, in that short boom period more than one old sailer that had lain through the war as a hulk in port was given masts and sent to sea. I sailed in one - the old 'Clan McLeod', that had been launched in 1874 and as the New Zealander 'James Craig' had been a store-ship somewhere in New Guinea. She was brought to Sydney and rigged again and sent to sea; but the boom had burst when she spread her sails, and she is a hulk again now. [p. 142/3]

Many a graceful sailer which has gone to the braek-up yards of receent years has gone there only because she wanted sails, and to give them to her was an utterly impossible business proposition. [p. 174]

We succeeded in telling her who we were and all about us, and she answered that she understood; but find out anything about her we could not. It was pretty obvious that she had no electric lamp, and with visibility still poor the oil lamp that she was using was very bad. [p. 200]

We saw the lights of a steamer a-lee, and overhauled them - we were doing thirteen knots; few cargo steamers do more than nine. [p. 238]

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© 2018 Duncan Linklater