Northern Light (clipper)

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Northern Light
United States
Builder: Brigs Brothers, South Boston, Massachusetts
Launched: September 25, 1851
Maiden voyage: November 20, 1851
Fate: Abandoned at sea, January 2, 1862
General characteristics
Tonnage: 1,021
Length: 180 ft (55 m)
Beam: 36 ft (11 m)
Draft: 21 ft 6 in (6.55 m)
Propulsion: Sails
Notes: [1]

Northern Light was an American clipper ship. In 1853 she sailed from San Francisco, California to Boston, Massachusetts via Cape Horn with Captain Freeman Hatch at the helm in a record-setting 76 days, 6 hours. The record still stands for a single hull vessel. In 1993 the record was soundly broken by a multi-hull sailing vessel Great American II with no cargo. Sailing around Cape Horn (the southernmost tip of South America) is widely regarded as one of the most challenging routes in yachting, due to extreme weather, strong currents, and a historical reputation for mountainous seas and frequent severe storms.


Northern Light was designed by Boston-based naval architect Samuel Hartt Pook and built by the Briggs Brothers in South Boston in 1851.[2][3] The ship was 1,021 tons register and it measured 180 feet (55 m) long, 36 feet (11 m) wide, and 21 feet 6 inches (6.55 m) deep.[1]

1853 voyage[edit]

Northern Light left Boston for San Francisco on October 29, 1852 under the command of Captain Freeman Hatch of Eastham, Massachusetts. The return journey was part of a competition with another clipper, Contest, bound for New York.[4]

Contest departed San Francisco for New York on March 12, 1853. Northern Light sailed for Boston the next day. After 38 days Northern Light came within sight of Contest off Cape Horn. Northern Light′s crew signalled and overtook their rival.

Northern Light reached Boston Light on May 29, 1853, after 76 days, 5 hours, arriving in Boston an hour later, two days ahead of Contest′s arrival in New York. It was the shortest run on the 15,000-mile (24,000 km) San Francisco-to-Boston passage on record.[4][5] It also beat previous around-Cape-Horn speed records of 84 days and 85 days held by the New York-based Comet and Flying Dutchman respectively. The Boston Post noted that Northern Light carried no cargo during the passage.[6] The San Francisco-to-Boston sailing record by Northern Light still stands for a single-hull vessel; that feat, accomplished in a time with no electricity, and few navigation aids, no plastics, no synthetic materials for sails or lines, and neither accurate television or radio weather forecasts nor accurate charts and Global Positioning System navigation to demonstrate precise location, is unlikely ever to be repeated. Nevertheless, in 1993 the multi-hull 53-foot (16 m) trimaran Great American II broke the record and completed the passage in 69 days, 19​34 hours; she had capsized off San Francisco on an initial attempt.[5]

Later service[edit]

Northern Light made her first transatlantic voyage in 1861, sailing to Le Havre, France, and departed Le Havre bound for New York on December 25, 1861. On January 2, 1862, the ship collided with and sank the French brig Nouveau St. Jacques. Northern Light was abandoned at sea.[7][8][9]


  1. ^ a b Clark, 163
  2. ^ Morison, Samuel Eliot (1921). The Maritime History of Massachusetts, 1783–1860. Houghton Mifflin. p. 339. OCLC 242077.
  3. ^ O'Connor, Thomas H. (1994). South Boston, My Home Town. UPNE. p. 37. ISBN 1-55553-188-1.
  4. ^ a b Clark, 227
  5. ^ a b "Trip Around Cape Horn Sets Sailing Record". The Seattle Times. Associated Press. April 11, 1993. Retrieved 2008-11-22.
  6. ^ "The Quickest Passage from San Francisco" (PDF). The New York Times. June 1, 1853. Retrieved 2008-11-22.
  7. ^ Paine, Lincoln P. (1997). Ships of the World: An Historical Encyclopedia. Houghton Mifflin. p. 366. ISBN 0-395-71556-3.
  8. ^ La Grange, Helen; Jacques La Grange (1936). Clipper Ships of America and Great Britain, 1833–1869. G. P. Putnam's sons. OCLC 1471826. On January 2, 1862, she sank the French brig Nouveau St. Jacques...
  9. ^ Clark, 342

External links[edit]