Overhauling Sails before the Heat of the Sun. Sea Witch Hong Kong 1849

Steven Dews

TitleOverhauling Sails before the Heat of the Sun. Sea Witch Hong Kong 1849
ArtistSteven Dews
Paper Size (W x H)40 x 28 ins 102 x 71 cms
Image Size (W x H)36 x 24 ins 90 x 60 cms

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This scene depicts the overhauling of the sails on one of America’s first clippers of the nineteenth century, the Sea Witch. She was designed by the naval architects John W. Griffiths for the China trading firm of Howland & Aspinwall, and was launched three years before this scene took place, in Manhattan on 8th December, 1846.

This ship was built after Griffiths built Rainbow, and was a much faster, stronger vessel, although both had great impacts on the merchant hull design. The Sea Witch aided the speedy movement of porcelain and tea from China to the East coast of the United States of America; goods that were considered to be very high value at the time. Due to this, she was heavily sparred and built with special tail masts for a vessel of her size. As a vessel she was 192 feet in length, had a 43 foot boom and was of 908 tons burden; perfect for her designed purpose as a freight vessel. Briefly she was the tallest ship afloat, due to her 140 foot main mast, which carried five tiers of sails.

In 1847 Sea Witch made a record breaking run from Hong Kong to New York in a mere 77 days. This scene is from 1849, just before she set off for America, where she broke her own record, making the sail in just 74 days. This March 1849 mark is one of the longest-lived human speed record, bettered only in May 2003 by the trimaran Great American II in 72 days, 21 hours, 11 minutes, 38 seconds. As of 25th October 2013, Sea Witch continues to hold the Hong Kong-New York record for a monohulled sailing vessel.

After the discovery of gold in California, the Sea Witch’s owners transferred her from the China trade to the new Cape Horn run from the East Coast to San Francisco. In early 1850, the Sea Witch completed this passage in 97 days, the first vessel ever to do so in less than 100 days.

About the Artist

Steven Dews

Described by Sotheby’s of London as “the best, there’s nobody else to touch him”, Steven Dews is a man at the peak of his profession.

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