Flying Cloud around the Horn

May/June 2000

On April 28, 1853, the extreme clipper ship Flying Cloud, 225 feet on deck, under the command of Capt. Josiah Creesy, with his wife, Eleanor, acting as navigator, departed Sandy Hook Light Ship, bound for San Francisco, around the Horn. This was the second voyage that Creesy made with his wife from New York to California, the first having taken place in June of 1851, when the ship made the passage in the unbelievable time of 89 days, 21 hours. During that passage, on July 31, Flying Cloud made a run of 374 miles in 24 hours.

Designed and built by Donald McKay, the undisputed leader of his day in ship design and construction, Flying Cloud, though not the largest of his ships, is certainly the one best remembered. Perhaps this is due to the presence on board of the aforementioned Eleanor Creesy, one of the great navigators of her time and certainly an under-appreciated heroine of the great days of sail. It was Mrs. Creesy who took great stock in the then new publication compiled by Lt. Matthew Fontaine Maury of the U.S. Navy. The revolutionary volume of information, Explanations and Sailing Directions to Accompany Wind and Current Charts, was the first systematic analysis of ocean winds and current patterns, the precursor to today’s invaluable pilot charts.

With information collected by Maury, Eleanor Creesy was able to guide her husband to consistent record-breaking runs. The 1853 voyage took 105 days. A year later Flying Cloud made it to San Francisco from New York in 89 days, eight hours, a record that stood for more than a century.

For a clipper, Flying Cloud had a long life. Her end came in 1874 when she went ashore at St. John, New Brunswick, and was condemned. In June of 1875 she was burned for her fastenings.

A book about this impressive vessel is due out this summer, Flying Cloud: The True Story of America’s Most Famous Clipper Ship and the Woman who Guided Her, by David Shaw, which will be reviewed next issue.

Positions given below are from the log of the Flying Cloud. Now, let’s get underway!

Flying Cloud departed Sandy Hook on April 28, 1853. The position was 40′ 22° N, 70′ 58° W. On May 15 the position of the ship was 1′ 0° S, 34′ 03° W. According to the log, the vessel had traveled 3,672 nm, averaging nine knots since departing Sandy Hook.

A. At that speed, how many hours had it taken Flying Cloud to reach that position? How many days is that?

B. What is the rhumb-line distance from the departure position to the position on the 15th? What is the difference between the two? Why may that difference exist?

C. What would the rhumb line true course be from the departure to the position on the 15th?

D. At 12:30:15 GMT on May 15, Eleanor Creesy took out her sextant and took a lower limb sun sight. Using an AP of 1’0° S, 34′ 03° W, what was the HC of the sun? What is the azimuth? What was her local time? Height of eye is 17 feet and the index error on the sextant is 2° on.  

By Ocean Navigator