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SEA WITCH (1846 - 1856) The Clipper ship

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SEA WITCH (1846 - 1856) The Clipper ship

Postby Anatol » Fri Apr 23, 2021 6:54 pm

Clipper SEA WITCH.jpg
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The SEA WITCH was a clipper ship with the following dimensions: Length, 192 feet; breadth, 34 feet; Depth, 19 feet; tons, 908 om. She was a wooden hulled vessel built by Smith & Dimon of New York in 1846. So much for the particulars
The SEA WITCH was built to the order of the New York firm of Howland and Aspinwall for the Canton trade. She was to be the running mate of the clipper RAINBOW. Her hull was not as sharp as the later extreme clippers, but the New York Herald printed a statement concerning her peculiar model and sharp bows [that] have for the past few months attracted so much attention. The article went on to state that the SEA WITCH is, for a vessel of her size, the prettiest vessel we have ever seen, and much resembles the model of the steamer GREAT BRITAIN, only on a smaller scale.
One of the major accomplishments of the SEA WITCH was the sailing record that she established over the course of the ten voyages in as many years that was, for her day, a very remarkable accomplishment.
The first three voyages of the SEA WITCH were commanded by the hard-driving Captain Robert H. Waterman, famous for his handling of the fast packet NATCHEZ on the China run and later infamous for his handling of CHALLENGE on her maiden voyage. Many of the captains that commanded these ships were very strict, demanding, and daring to an extent that crew and ship were pushed to their limit and beyond.
On her first voyage out, SEA WITCH established a succession of records: 42 days from New York to the Cape of Good Hope and 70 days, 10 hours past Java Head, outbound. While the returning trip, against the monsoon, took only 26 days from Anjer to the Cape and 62 days to New York. Her second voyage nipped a day off her time from Java Head and the Cape of Good Hope and arrived at New York after a voyage of 77 days from Canton. She then proceeded to do even better things. On her third China voyage to China she sailed from New York to Canton and back in only 194 sailing days, with calls at Valparaiso and Callao on the outward passage. Comments on this last voyage home, departing Canton on January 8, 1849, she reached New York on March 25 after a passage of 74 days, 14 hours. It was the Worlds First Permanent Sailing Record according to Carl Cutler. A few days after her return, the Commercial Advertiser described the particulars:
During the voyage she has made the shortest direct passages on record, viz.:
69 days from New York to Valparaiso; 50 days from Callao to China; 75 days from China to New York. Distance run by observation from New York to Valparaiso, 10,568 miles; average, 2 2/5 miles per hour. Distance from Callao to China, 10,417 miles; average, 5 5/8 knots per hour. Distance from China to New York, 14,255 miles; average, 7 7/8 knots per hour. Best ten (consecutive) days run, 2,634 miles; average, 11 1/10 knots per hour.
This trip was a famous one for the time and much attention was paid to it. One reason was that the arrival of the ship was so unexpected. A contemporary description is as follows:
From the signal tower high atop the Navesink Highlands, that stood 250 feet over the treacherous entrance to New York Harbor as Sandy Hook, the watcher from the semaphore station stared out from his panoramic view of the Atlantic Ocean in disbelief. On the far horizon to the southeast he spotted what could only be a heavily sparred ship. It was a clear Sunday afternoon, a day when one could see 40 miles out to sea. The anxious watcher focused in his telescope at the rapidly approaching tea clipper flying clouds of canvas that could only be the SEA WITCH, ring tails and studding sails set, scudding up the New Jersey coast as she caught the winds from the south-southeast. Her sleek, black hull slicing through the choppy swells, with the crew at last taking in her studding sails one after the other and running up her private signal. It was March 25, 1849, and there were no tea clippers due for another two weeks, but there was no denying that there was the SEA WITCH, flaunting her coiled dragon figurehead with the pointed tail, back from her third voyage around the world. Robert Waterman had come romping back from China to New York, and beaten the tea fleet home.
The profits from this one voyage would make a fortune at the tea auction for the firm of Howland & Aspinwall, enough to pay for the building of another clipper! Griffiths, the builder of the SEA WITCH, basked in the limelight of this achievement and was never at a loss for words when praising the ship that was his masterpiece. He wrote:The model of the SEA WITCH had more influence upon the subsequent configuration of fast vessels than any other ship build in the United States.
Returning from China in April 1850 the year after the start of the California Gold Rush, SEA WITCH was put on the berth for San Francisco, with Captain Waterman relinquishing command in favor of his equally hard-driving first mate, Captain George Fraser. Not surprisingly, she set a new record of 97 net sailing days for the outward passage, the first ship to make the run in less than 101 days. If you include the four days she was at Valparaiso, she was a total of 101 days from port to port. It is interesting to note that the average time for 57 vessels arriving from the East Coast at around the same time was 171 days. Just as interesting, SEA WITCHS next two passages to San Francisco, in 1851 and 1852, were made in 111 days and 108 days, respectively. Her seventh voyage was via the Cape of Good Hope to Hong Kong, continuing eastward to South America, where she was forced to put into Valparaiso because of holes in the hull, possibly bored by a member of the crew!
The SEA WITCHS ninth and last voyage began on April 5, 1855, when she sailed from New York. While still in the Atlantic, Captain Fraser was killed by one of his mates and the ship was forced into Rio de Janeiro, where Captain Lang assumed command. His command was short, however, as SEA WITCH continued on to China and embarked 500 Chinese workers (coolies) bound for Havana. On the way there, on March 28, 1856, after 99 days at sea, SEA WITCH struck a reef 12 miles from Havana and sank. See also: viewtopic. php? f=2&t=6777
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