James Forbes Circumnavigation
Clipper ships reached their ultimate peak around the 1840s and the 1850s and developed into fast ships that reached incredible speeds cirumnavigating the globe. These clipper ships made fortunes for their owners carting emigrants to the colonies, bringing back tea from China, gold and wool from Australia, and transporting cargo to the cities of London, Paris and New York. Speed was of the essence in these voyages so that perishable goods would not go off, and so that clipper captains could get their goods to markets first and get the best prices.
One of the most amazing clipper ship captains was James Forbes, a tough Scot, who was the captain of the Marco Polo, a clipper ship of the Black Ball Line. In the Marco Polo's maiden voyage in 1852, she sailed to Melbourne in 68 days from Liverpool. He would put his crew in jail when they were in port so that they would not run away from his sadistic clutches. The Marco Polo returned home via the Horn in 76 days to Liverpool and was acclaimed as "the fastest ship in the world". Forbes had made a circumnavigation in 175 day.
On the next voyage to Melbourne, Forbes announced that he would astonish everyone. He took 75 days to sail to Melbourne, and turned around in less than two weeks, then sailed to the sixtieth parallel, but was among the pack ice and had her copper sheath ripped off. The Marco Polo and Forbes still only took six months to make the circumnavigation. The new ship for the Black Ball Line was the Lightning. On her voyage across the Atlantic in 1854, she sailed 436 miles in twenty four hours. Now Commodore Forbes sailed the Lightning from Liverpool harbor on 14 May 1854 but was stuck in the Doldrums and took 77 days to sail to Melbourne. He was determined to make up time on the trip around the Horn and kept up maximum canvas, roaring along at 18-19 knots. Forbes pushed too hard and the foretopmast snapped, leaving them making repairs for days. Forbes still managed to get to LIverpool in 64 days - a feat that has never been bettered by any vessel under sail. He managed that circumnavigation in 162 days.
The newest ship of the Black Ball Line was the Schomberg and Forbes was given the command of her. Forbes set sail on October the sixth and boasted that he would make Melbourne in 60 days. Unfortunately the Schomberg was not a fast clipper ship and Forbes was not impressed. Near Cape Otway in Victoria the Schomberg ran into strong head winds and was drifting onto a lee shore. Forbes was playing cards and the Schomberg ran onto a sandbank. "Let her go to hell" was Forbes' response. The clipper ship was wrecked and the ship owners sacked him. Forbes was a broken man and drifted around the world getting work wherever he could find it. It was not a very satisfactory end to one of the fastest circumnavigators that has ever been and who had sailed around the world three times really fast.
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