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ALBATROSS

ALBATROSS - click to enlargeALBATROSS - click to enlarge
The beginnings of the American clipper ship predated the American nation itself. From the colonial period onward, speed was of major importance in American ships. Colonial trade was harshly restricted by the British parliament, so smuggling - which required fast ships - became highly profitable. While the young Continental American Navy could not hope to engage the fearsome dreadnaughts of the Royal Navy in direct confrontation, swift American privateers won glory by harassing British shipping and obstructing the reinforcement of militia forces.

It was during the war of 1812 with Great Britain that these fast-hitting, rakish, two-masted Chesapeake Bay privateers came into their own. It was during this period that these trim, lively, lightly-gunned brigs and schooners of the Chesapeake evolved into a new class of ships that became known as Baltimore Clippers. They swept the mid-Atlantic coast, capturing a great many British supply ships and successfully interdicting the maintenance and reinforcement of the British forces ashore.

The Albatross, launched during this period, exemplified this revolutionary development in naval architecture. Like other members of her class, she was sleek in profile, with a low freeboard and a rounded, but narrow hull. Her bow was capable of slicing through the seas instead of plodding over them. In addition to being fast, she could sail into the wind far better than most full-bodied, square-rigged ships of the time. Taken together, these qualities made her extremely maneuverable and well suited for hit and run tactics. Although Baltimore clippers were not called ships by the 19th century seamen - - only three-masted, square rigged vessels qualified for this nomenclature - - they were the direct ancestors of the true clipper ships which were to dominate the seas during the next 50 years.