The Sweepstakes was an 1853 clipper ship in the California trade. She was known for a record passage from New York to Bombay, and for a race around the Horn with three other clippers.


 [hide*1 Record set, New York to Bombay

Record set, New York to Bombay[edit]Edit

"1857, May 9 — July 22, 1857. Sailed from New York to Bombay in 74 days. This one of the fastest passages on record between the two ports."[1]

California clipper[edit]Edit

"In response to the demands for rapid passage to California after the discovery of gold in 1848, 1853 was a peak year for the construction of United States clipper ships ... The Sweepstakes was one of forty-eight built that year and the last to be built by the renowned Westervelt shipyard."[2]

Just the year before, in autumn of 1852, "four splendid new clipper ships put to sea from New York, bound for California" in "the most celebrated and famous ship-race that has ever been run": the Wild Pigeon, the John Gilpin, the Flying Fish and the Trade Wind. "All ran against time; but the John Gilpin and the Flying Fish for the whole course, and the Wild Pigeon for part of it, ran neck and neck, the one against the other, and each against all. It was a sweepstakewith these ships around Cape Horn and through both hemispheres." [3]

The Sweepstakes, though black-hulled like other clippers, bore a stripe of gold, found on only a few others like the N.B. Palmer, and was praised for her sleek lines and speed.[2] The clipper bow of the Sweepstakes was an unusual form, with an upright, curved stem, a straight keel, and a rockered, arched forefoot.[4]

A rather dramatic mishap occurred during the launch. "The launch of this finely-modelled ship was arrested on the 18th by an accidental spreading of the ways as she was moving into the water, causing her to careen over and stop, in which awkward position she remained until Tuesday the 21st, when the launch was finished."[5]

"In sliding down the ways the vessel moved about half her length into the water when she suddenly stopped her onward movement, then careened over and struck the staging alongside and around the stern of the clipper ship Kathay, then under construction in the yard, which broke down and precipitated a large number of spectators into the water, who had taken advantage of the choice situation for a good view of the launch, but they were all recovered during the excitement of the unusual occasion, without anything much more serious than a good ducking and fright."[6]

With the help of steam tugs and two floating derricks, Sweepstakes was brought to Brooklyn Navy Yard for inspection and repairs.[6]

Afterwards, the owners proposed a sweepstakes race for the new ship. "Messrs. Chambers & Heiser offer[ed] to sail the Sweepstakes, a clipper ship of 1600 tons, partially launched on June 18th from the ship-yard of Messrs. Westervelt & Sons, in this city, a race of 3000 miles, say 1500 out and return, each ship to pay an entrance of $10,000; the race to be subject to such rules and regulations as shall be prescribed by the New York Yacht Club.[5]

Of the California clippers which sailed between 1850-1860, Sweepstakes was one of eighteen ships which made passages between New York and San Francisco in less than 100 days. The fastest trip between New York and San Francisco was 89 days; Sweepstakes came in seventh, with a passage of 94 days.[7]

[1][2]Sailing to California at the beginning of the Gold Rush

Sweepstakes' ports of call included New York, San Francisco, Shanghai, Manila, Macao, Melbourne, Adelaide, and Bombay.[1]

In the preface to his autobiography, Master of the Show, Augustus Pitou, a Broadway producer[8] who spent fifty years in theater as a manager, playwright, and actor,[9] claimed to have sailed to Australia aboard Sweepstakes as a cabin boy.[10]

Final voyage[edit]Edit

"1862 April 24, Arrived to Batavia in ballast from Adelaide after having been aground on a reef for ten hours in the Sunda Straits. Was condemned after having been inspected in dry-dock. 1862 May 13, Sold in Batavia for 15,000 florins ($68.04) to be broken up."[2]

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