A precise and intimate chronicle of the fabled Flying Cloud's record-setting run from New York City to San Francisco in 1851, engagingly told by sailing writer Shaw (Daring the Sea, not reviewed).
Clipper ships were built for speed and none were speedier than the Flying Cloud. At the height of the gold rush, she made the 16,000-mile trip from New York to the Golden Gate in a mind-boggling 89 days—nearly the top theoretical speed—as opposed to the usual 200 days. It was a record that lasted until 1989. Shaw's story is a day-to-day account of the voyage, drawn from the ship's log, letters and diaries of the passengers, and archival material from the crew. He pays particular attention to Eleanor Creesy—the trip is seen through her perspective as navigator and captain's wife—but this is the ship's tale, not hers. There is a certain starchiness to Shaw's writing—it doesn't give the idea it would flap in the breeze like a skysail—but it feels right in the context as it fashions archetypal dialogue: "Haul short, aye, Captain." Shaw gives a wealth of information on the design of the Flying Cloud, the orchestration needed to sail her at peak performance, an overview of nautical knowledge used by Eleanor, what the coastlines looked like, and how the captain was perhaps more than a bit imperious. As expected, Shaw relishes the "boisterous weather" the Flying Cloud encountered, and he relaxes enough to write of it in impassioned tones. And equally as expected, it is in the small change that the most transporting material comes, in the cleaning of the chicken coops and the hazing of the green hands as they make their first crossing of the Equator.
Shaw's pleasing formality and attention to detail do a first-rate job of re-creating the atmosphere on deck the Flying Cloud, and of the world seen through the eyes of her navigator. (Illustrations, not seen)