In the early days of the California gold rush, it took more than 200 days for a ship to travel from New York to San Francisco, a voyage of more than 16,000 miles. In 1851, however, a clipper called the Flying Cloud
made the same journey in only 89 days, a headline-grabbing world record that the Cloud
itself beat three years later (and that would not then be broken until 1989).
The Flying Cloud's achievement was remarkable under any terms. But, writes David W. Shaw, it was all the more unusual because its navigator was a woman, Eleanor Creesy, who had been studying oceanic currents, weather phenomena, and astronomy since her girlhood in Marblehead, Massachusetts. With her husband, ship captain Josiah Perkins Creesy, she logged many thousands of miles on the ocean, traveling around the world carrying passengers and goods. In the wake of their record-setting transit from New York to California, Eleanor and Josiah became instant celebrities. But their fame was short-lived and their story quickly forgotten. Josiah died in 1871, Flying Cloud burned to the waterline in 1874, and Eleanor lived far from the sea until her death in 1900.
Though spotty in its documentation and full of invented dialog, Flying Cloud is a spirited and capable reconstruction of the clipper's voyage, and an interesting glimpse into the days of the tall ships. --Gregory McNamee
From Publishers Weekly
On her maiden voyage in 1851, the clipper ship Flying Cloud, carrying valuable cargo and 11 passengers, sailed from New York to San Francisco by the only route possible before the construction of the Panama Canal, around the tip of South America. The ship made the 16,000-mile trip in 89 days, 21 hoursAa record time. As astonishing as the speed, however, was the fact that the ship's navigator was the captain's wife, Eleanor Creesy, an experienced pilot who charted the course using the revolutionary new theories about wind directions and ocean currents propounded by Matthew Maury, superintendent of the navy's National Observatory. The subtitle of the book is misleading, however. This is really the story of the collaboration between an extraordinary woman and her husband, Captain Josiah Perkins Creesy. While the captain sailed the ship and dealt with emergenciesAsuch as broken masts, storms and disgruntled sailorsAhis wife calmly plotted the course, managed day-to-day life on board and coped with the sometimes rash decisions made by her husband, for whom the safety of his crew and passengers was less important than his desire to set a record and claim the financial reward the ship's owners would pay for speedy delivery of the cargo. Because the author doesn't embellish his sourcesAthe ship's log, letters, a passenger's diary and archival documents, none of which include much personal detailAthe characters of Eleanor and her husband remain shadowy. Still, Shaw (Daring the Sea) presents a vivid picture of life on the high seas with enough drama to interest even those who know nothing about sailing. A glossary of nautical terms helps with the technical details. Photos not seen by PW. (July)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.