Clipper ships were born in the shipyards of Baltimore around 1820 and represented the zenith of the age of sail. They had completely new and original naval design characteristics, still emulated today by marine designers. These included a long and narrow hull, a narrow, cutting bow, low freeboard, a streamlined stern, and a deep draft. They were especially renowned for carrying large amounts of sail relative to their displacement and were capable of remarkable speed.
The Flying Cloud, a clipper ship, was the masterpiece of Donald Mckay, the foremost marine architect and shipbuilder of his time. She was launched in East Boston in 1851, just at the time of the California "Gold Rush", when travel and transport between East Coast ports and California was best undertaken by ship. The Flying Cloud acquired a reputation for sailing faster than any other ship of her time. On one record breaking occasion under command of Captain Josiah Creesy, she made the passage from New York to San Francisco in 88 days, 22½ hours, a feat never again achieved by a sail-powered ship.
The Flying Cloud could be seen racing into port before the wind, her acres of sail flashing in the sun. An ordinary sailing ship would lift her bows and plunge with the seas. But not this one. As her sleek, jet-black hull sliced through the swells, the only visible motion was the white curl at her bow and an occasional toss of spray. She seemed to skim the waves like a gigantic black and white bird.
During her later years, she carried tea from China to London, making the passage from Foochow in 123 days. Like all of the fast clipper ships, her time came to a close as steam-powered vessels took over maritime commerce. Flying Cloud met an unfortunate end when she ran aground in 1874, could not be rescued, and was burned to salvage metalwork.