In my opinion, the clipper ship was the most handsome sailing ship built in America. The raked bow, the long narrow hull and the large spread of canvas were designed for speed, not heavy cargo. As a result, the clipper ships often carried more valuable merchandise, such as tea, spices and opium. Passengers also took advantage of the clipper’s speed, and these ships provided the fastest service around Cape Horn for easterners heading to California during the gold rush. A clipper could travel up to 300 miles a day and make the journey to San Francisco in only about three months.

Two British clipper ships survive today, most notably the Cutty Sark. But the era of the clipper ended in the 1860s, and all 400 or so Yankee-built examples were lost except one: the Snow Squall, built in South Portland in 1851.

The Snow Squall ran aground near Cape Horn in 1864 and was towed to the Falkland Islands, where it was abandoned. For over a century, it rotted away, until Nicholas Dean and Fred Yalouris located the remains in 1979. In 1982, they measured and photographed the hull and decided that part of the bow might be saved and returned to Maine. The find was significant because little was known about the construction techniques and details of American clipper ships.

Sponsorship was obtained by Harvard’s Peabody Museum, and a team of volunteer experts was assembled. The recovery of the bow would take four expeditions over five years. The remains were finally loaded aboard a Danish freighter in 1987 and delivered to the Spring Point Museum in Portland. Preservation of the wood was undertaken, and eventually, the only surviving example of American clipper ships was moved to the Maine Maritime Museum in Bath. It is preserved there to this day.

The fabulous clippers were made obsolete by the advancement of steamships, especially once the Panama Canal was opened. They were replaced by larger, slower wooden cargo ships, which grew ever bigger until becoming obsolete themselves in the early 20th century.