4 Famous Clipper Ships

27th March 2020

Although, technically, a clipper ship has three masts and is square-rigged, the term is generally used to describe a wide range of sailing vessels that were built for speed and to ‘clip’ the waves. There have been many predecessors to the three ships in the Star Clippers fleet – most notably ‘Preussen’, the inspiration for Royal Clipper. So, as we look back through the history of sailing, here are four other famous clippers.

Flying Cloud

Flying Cloud

For more than 130 years, Flying Cloud held the record for the fastest journey by sea from New York to San Francisco. With a time of 89 days and 8 hours, it more than halved the time other vessels were taking to make this journey during the Gold Rush. Built in 1851, she made regular trips around Cape Horn, some of which were during races with vessels like Hornet.

This was not the only way that Flying Cloud blazed a trail, though. She made even more headlines during here world-record-setting sailing by having a female navigator. Eleanor Creesy was the wife of skipper Josiah Perkins Creesy and became an instant celebrity for her achievement.

Great Republic

Great Republic

Like Flying Cloud, Great Republic was built by renowned shipbuilder Donald McKay. In 1853, when the vessel was launched, she was the largest wooden ship in the world and is still the largest fully rigged ship to be built in the USA.

She didn’t have the best of starts, however, as a fire ripped through one of her decks whilst she was waiting to embark on her maiden voyage in New York’s harbour. After being re-rigged and her ownership transferred, she finally made her debut trip to Liverpool in 1855. During her life, Great Republic set a record for clocking up 413 nautical miles in a day when sailing around Cape Horn.

Cutty Sark

Cutty Sark

Cutty Sark is one of the most famous British ships to have sailed the seas and currently resides on the River Thames in Greenwich. She remains the only extreme clipper still in existence and visitors can still explore much of her original frame when climbing aboard the museum.

Cutty Sark is a Scottish term for a short nightie and the ship’s name is taken from the Robert Burns poem Tam O’shanter. In the piece, a witch by the name of Nannie chases Tam, who flees on horseback, and pulls out the horse’s tail. The figurehead of Cutty Sark portrays Nannie reaching out in this way.

Built in Dumbarton in 1869, the much-loved vessel carried 10 million pounds, in weight, of tea during her lifetime and set speed records when transporting wool from Australia to the UK. Having withstood so much during her 150 years, including a fire in 2007, the ship has been painstakingly restored and offers great insight into the sailing world of the 19th century.

Sovereign of the Seas

Sovereign of the Seas

Another ship built by Donald McKay, Sovereign of the Seas set many records during her lifetime. As well as making the fastest trip between Honolulu and New York, and then between New York and Liverpool, she still holds the record for being the fastest clipper ship ever – clocking up a speed of 22 knots.


A Star Clippers cruise allows you to sail on board a modern-day clipper and feel the sea breeze in your hair. Call the team on 0845 200 6145 to discuss the fantastic itineraries we have available.

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