The Flying Cloud

After returning from her third voyage, the Flying Cloud had earned a well deserved rest and refitting over the fall of 1853 and remained moored at the Grinnell, Minturn & Co.'s pier at the foot of Maiden Lane. The Flying Cloud began loading cargo for another California run around the Horn in December.

Nearly three years had gone by since the Flying Cloud had set her record breaking run of 89 days, 21 hours, and she still held onto the laurels. William Webb's extreme clipper Sword Fish, had come the closest with a splendid passage of 90 days, 16 hours, beating the Flying Cloud's sister ship, the Flying Fish, on her maiden voyage around the Horn.

On her second voyage around the Horn, the Flying Fish made a passage of 92 days, 4 hours, anchor to anchor, which was good enough for third place honors.

Since the Flying Cloud's record breaking run, the maritime world had sung her praises, analyzed her sailing qualities, and emulated her with larger, sharper, and loftier clippers, but to date none had surpassed the Flying Cloud with a better run around the Horn.

By January 1854, close to 300 attempts by clippers, some of them more than once, had been made since the Flying Cloud's record run; or were still in progress, by daring captains. They had no qualms about piling on sail from the moment they tossed off their lines and raced all the way around Cape Horn through the most challenging seas in the world right up to the San Francisco Heads for the laurels. It was a noble challenging contest and all clipper ship captains participated.

Three of them had arrived off Sandy Hook over the evening of January 20, 1854. Captain Phillip Dumaresq had brought the Surprise home from Shanghai, 850 miles north up the China coast from Whampoa, in 98 days, completing her third around the world passage.

By chance, that same evening the Stag Hound and Sword Fish arrived to join her off Sandy Hook in wait for the morning tide. The Stag Hound was returning from her second around the world voyage and had made the fastest passage of the three with an 89-day run from Whampoa after leaving that port with a cargo of tea on October 24, 1853.

The Sword Fish, under the command of Captain Collins, had left Whampoa nine days earlier and had run head-on into the monsoon and lost a lot of canvas which slowed her down for a time. She finished the passage to New York in 97 days with the completion of her second voyage around the world.

Model of the Flying Cloud

Pilots escorted the three clippers into the harbor with the early morning tide to the waterfront piers where their precious cargoes of tea would soon be unloaded. The activity along the South Street waterfront was unusually brisk that morning.

Captain Josiah and Eleanor Creesy came aboard the Flying Cloud and made final preparations to depart New York for their fourth voyage. At 12 o'clock noon on January 21, 1854, the steamer Achilles towed the Flying Cloud down the East River out to Sandy Hook where Captain Creesy discharged the pilot.

Creesy tossed off the line, hoisted sail and began the chase after the Archer, under the command of Captain Thomas that had sailed eight days before from New York. Other clipper ships making the Cape Horn run from Boston, right before the Archer, were the Monsoon, and National Eagle, that sailed on January 4th and January 6th respectively.

The Archer was a year-old clipper built at the Crocker & Warren shipyard that was smaller than the Flying Cloud at 176 x 37 x 21: 6 feet, 1095 tons, that was on her second voyage around the Horn, and said to be a fast sailer. Creesy was anxious to catch up with her and at last the chase was on.

Sailing from Boston on January 21st was the Herald of the Morning; a Samuel Harte Pook designed medium clipper that was launched in December 1853, from the Hayden & Cudworth shipyard at Medford, Massachusetts. She was 203 x 38 x 23:6 feet, 1294 tons, and said to be a perfect gem in hull and rigging. She resembled a privateer with two brass cannon mounted on her poop deck and had a fighting appearance as well as the promise of being a swift racer.

Another clipper entering the contest from Boston was the Winged Racer out of Robert E. Jackson's East Boston shipyard and now a member of the Sampson & Tappan fleet, which sailed on January 25th on her second voyage around the Horn.

The Red Rover that had barely escaped disaster and had been damaged on the night of December 26-27 fire that had burned the Great Republic, sailed from New York on January 22nd, bound for Cape Horn and San Francisco.

The Seaman's Bride, an extreme clipper built in Baltimore in 1851, sailed from New York on January 23rd on her third voyage around the Horn.

The John Gilpin sailed from New York on January 28th on her second voyage, now under the command of Captain Ring.

None of the clippers sailing around the same time mentioned here would get so much as a glimpse of the Flying Cloud over the course of this voyage. For the Flying Cloud had found the favorable winds that Creesy had so desired and he sent his clipper flying down the Atlantic to the line in 17 days.

Each clipper, of course, sailed with copies of Maury's Wind and Current Charts and Maury himself had taken much interest in this race, as the following passages from his Physical Geography of the Sea will attest:


571. Let a ship sail from New York to California, and the next week let a faster one follow after; they will cross each other's path many times, and are almost sure to see each other by the way. Thus a case in point happens to be before me. It is the case of the Archer and the Flying Cloud on their voyage to California. They are both fine clipper ships, ably commanded. But it was not until the ninth day after the Archer had sailed from New York that the Flying Cloud put to sea, California bound also. She was running against time, and so was the Archer, but without reference to each other. The Archer, with Wind and Current Charts in hand, went blazing her way across the calms of Cancer, and along the new route, down through the northeast trades to the equator; the Cloud followed after, crossing the equator upon the trail of Thomas of the Archer. Off Cape Horn she came up with him, spoke him, handed him the latest New York dates, and invited him to dine on board the Cloud, which invitation, says he of the Archer, "I was reluctantly compelled to decline."

572. The Flying Cloud finally ranged ahead, made her adieus, and disappeared among the clouds that lowered upon the western horizon, being destined to reach her port a week or more in advance of her Cape Horn consort. Though sighting no land from the time of their separation until they gained the offing of San Francisco-some six or eight thousand miles off-the tracks of the two vessels were so nearly the same, that, being projected on the Plate IX., they would appear almost as one.


The table presented here shows how the Flying Cloud bested the Archer over the course of this voyage and set the record.



Left New York.........................Jan. 21

Crossed Equator......................Feb. 7 17 days out

Passed Cape San Roque.......Feb. 10 20 "

Passed 50° S. (Atlantic).......Mar. 4 42 "

Passed 50° S. (Pacific)..........Mar. 16 54 "

Crossed Equator.....................April 5 74 "

Arrived San Francisco........April 20 89 days, 8 hours


Left New York.........................Jan. 13

Crossed Equator......................Feb. 2 20 days out

Passed Cape San Roque.......Feb. 5 23 "

Passed 50° S. (Atlantic).......Mar. 4 50 "

Passed 50° S. (Pacific)..........Mar. 18 64 "

Crossed Equator.....................April 7 84 "

Arrived San Francisco........April 29 106 days out

The last entry in Captain Creesy's log reads:


April 20th Lat. 37° 18': Long. 123° 54'. Light breeze, hazy weather, at 1 p.m. made Farallones Islands; at 6, took a pilot, and anchored in San Francisco, after a passage of 89 days, 8 hours!


Over the course of the 4th voyage, the Flying Cloud had logged 15,091 miles with a best day's run of 360 miles.

With this eclipse of the Flying Cloud's earlier record, San Francisco went wild with enthusiasm and Captain Creesy was hailed as the hero of the day in all the city newspapers.

Even with all the excitement going on over his record passage, Creesy lost little time discharging his cargo and taking on fresh provisions for the China run. The Flying Cloud left San Francisco Harbor out past the Golden Gate under tow of two Hong Kong bound steamers 8 days, 8 hours after her arrival.

The winds blew hard that day kicking up the waves and the eddy currents ran so strong that the steamers were having trouble handling the Flying Cloud. With the dangers mounting, Creesy decided to come to and anchored the Flying Cloud a mile from shore in 12 fathoms of water for the night.

The next day, the gales still blew heavy and some in San Francisco were sure that the wind had blown the Flying Cloud on the beach. The U.S. Steamer Active came out the Golden Gate to offer assistance, which Captain Creesy declined, determined to wait out the gales, which began to taper off, and Creesy decided to wait another day before departing.

The next morning, the Flying Cloud rode the tide out past the bar, where Creesy discharged the pilot, hoisted sail, and caught the northwesterly breeze for Hong Kong. The Flying Cloud had a remarkably quick run of it flying across the Pacific, arriving in 37 days at Hong Kong and then on to Whampoa for a cargo of tea and other precious Chinese commodities.

The Flying Cloud sailed from Whampoa with a $1,000,000 cargo on July 20th bound for New York and caught the prevailing winds on down the South China Sea. On August 7th, the Flying Cloud encountered storms and foggy weather and was sailing hard when she struck and ran up on a coral reef with such force that the jagged coral stripped off the shoe cutting right through the Flying Cloud's keel leaving a hole through the hull.

The bow of the Flying Cloud was up out of the water three to four feet. Creesy was able to back the ship off the reef into deep water and was then faced with the prospect of putting into a nearby port for a lengthy stay where repairs tended to be very expensive and could have easily amounted to $30,000 or more.

The thrifty New England Yankee captain deduced the rate of the sea water coming in through the hole, a rate of 11 inches an hour, and decided on another less expensive course of action.

Creesy continued on with the voyage as members of the crew manned the pumps 24 hours a day over the entire voyage half way around the world back to New York, arriving there on November 24th with a passage of 115 days, and delivered the Flying Cloud's precious cargo intact. For this astounding feat of seamanship the grateful insurance Underwriters, at a banquet at the Astor House on February 3, 1855, presented Captain Creesy with a silver service set along with a most flattering commendation by Walter R. Jones, President of the Board of Underwriters that is reproduced here.


Sir:-On your last passage from China when in command of the celebrated ship Flying Cloud, with a rich and costly cargo of delicate goods, the total value of which, probably, amounted to a sum of dollars, you encountered adverse currents and stormy and foggy weather, which carried your ship upon a coral reef, on the 7th of August last, in the China Sea, striking with such severity that her bow was raised out of the water three or four feet, her shoe taken off her keel, and keel itself cut through to the bottom planking causing her to leak badly and to make a great quality of water.

With a skill that none but a first rate shipmaster possesses, you soon extricated her from her perilous situation, without cutting away her masts or making any other great sacrifice, which is often done, nominally for the benefit of whom it may concern proving very frequently however, to the great detriment of all concerned.

In a very short time you had her afloat ready to proceed, when the important question arose in your mind where you should go; on the settling of which much then depended.

Again your good judgment manifested itself. The expensive and costly ports in the straits were near at hand, you determined to avoid them and no one can say how much you saved to those interested in your valuable ship and cargo, but it is reasonable to suppose that those concerned have been saved at least, thirty thousand dollars and probably much more; in fact no one can possibly tell the extent of saving with much accuracy; all know it has been very large.

At that time your qualifications as a skillful commander again became manifest and you seem also to have combined in yourself the talents of the merchant as well as the shipmaster.

After relieving your ship your attention was directed to the next best movement, and in that you rendered us an important service; instead of running your ship into an expensive port before referred to where the positive and known charges would have amounted to a very large sum, you examined the condition of the vessel and the means at your command and although your crew was weak and insufficient you made up your mind to proceed homeward, and with a leaky ship you left the China seas and in a very short time thereafter, to the great relief of the Underwriters you reached this port in safety and with scarcely a damaged package on which a claim could be made upon the Underwriters.

Taking into view the important services you have rendered to the Marine Insurance Companies of the city, by your energetic, prompt, skillful and successful conduct, they have caused a choice and a weighty service of plate to be prepared, which I now have the honor, in their name, to present you, as a testimonial of their appreciation of your good conduct, so opportunely and satisfactorily rendered on this voyage referred to, and that you may long and successfully live to enjoy it, is, I can assure you, the ardent wish of all the donors.

We also desire to record out testimonial in your favor, and to make known your example, that the timid may be encouraged and the energetic, sustained and strengthened in a similar course of conduct. In avoiding an entry at a port in the Chinese seas, and the necessity of discharging and reloading your cargo, you have saved the property from charges to a very large amount, your ship from a long detention, and your crew from the hazards of entering a sickly port, all which it was most desirable for you to avoid, and in doing so you are entitled to our acknowledgments.


Captain Creesy responded with a letter acknowledging the points brought up with the presentation.


Sir:-I have received your favor of the 3d inst., together with a copy of your remarks at the recent presentation to me of a service of plate. Throughout the voyage of which you speak in flattering terms, I merely did my duty as a shipmaster, according to the best of my knowledge and ability.

Though for this I claim no praise, I am not insensible to the good opinion of the Honorable Board which you represent, and I am very far, I trust, from being ungrateful for the beautiful and valuable testimonial with which they have seen fit to honor me.

The Sailor, amid the difficulties, dangers and responsibilities of his profession, often feels the need of appreciation and sympathy. These are his best reward and highest encouragement. From the bottom of your heart I thank you, Sir, and the gentlemen of the Board of Underwriters, for your kind words and rich gift, I shall cherish them while I live, and shall be proud to leave such a legacy to my family.

With great regard, your ob't servant,

Josiah P. Creesy.

Next: Later Voyages of the Flying Cloud

The Era of the Clipper Ships
Bibliography / Sea Witch / Directory / Maritime Links
Home / McKay Clan / Ship's Store / Introduction / Tradewinds