May Flint




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Ship Name: May Flint; Sailed: 1880-1900; Type: Iron 4-masted bark; Built by: Dumbarton, Scotland A. McMillan & Sons; Dimensions: 351.8’ x 42.9’ x 16.2’; Tonnage: 3428 tons.


The Persian Monarch, at 3923 tons, was a large iron sea-going steamer when launched in 1880. Intended for the Atlantic passenger trade between New York and London, Persian Monarch steamed this route until 23 December 1886, whereupon Persian Monarch became the property of the Wilson Line. Making one final voyage from New York to London, the steamer transferred to a Hull-New York venue on which the ship continued until 6 May 1888. Returning to the London-New York route, Persian Monarch continued carving furrows in the sea between New York and London until her final voyage commencing 18 April 1894. Departing London for New York, under the Wilson-Hill Line, Persian Monarch encountered a terrific storm that drove it onto the beach at Long Island on 3 May 1894. Flint & Co., purchased Persian Monarch, refloated the steamer and converted it to a sailing four-mast bark, removing the engines entirely. While unusual, the conversion of a large steamer to a sailing ship was not unprecedented. What was unprecedented was the aesthetic outcome of the conversion. Nineteenth-century steamers possessed either a rakish clipper bow, similar in most respects to sailing ships of the period, or they plowed the seas with a functional, but unlovely plumb stem. Persian Monarch was of the latter persuasion. The prodigious spike bowsprit and large, square tophamper failed utterly to disguise the fact that May Flint, as the ship was now named, had been a steamer. Broadside photographs of the ship at sea have an aspect more than a little reminiscent of a sawn 2 x 4 block laboring through the waves. Other sailing ships built on steamer hulls frequently had attached a more-or-less “stillborn” clipper bow, such as Undaunted, intended to give at least the gap between the angled bowsprit and the straight and unyielding stem a visual bridge before they met. No so, May Flint. Parsimony ruled the Flint Company in the 1890s when it came to their sailing ships, and May Flint was the visual evidence of tightened purse strings. Captain E. D. P. Nickels then took over the bark May Flint. Nickels had another run-in with a fierce Atlantic storm, and narrowly avoided losing his ship after three of his four masts went over the side. Passing ships signaled willingness to take off the crew, but Captain Nickels, nothing if not self-reliant, wallowed sail-less for two weeks in the Atlantic while his crew improvised a jury rig. Nickels and his crew then sailed the May Flint several thousand miles into New York. While the May Flint was a big carrier—able to load almost twice the California wheat as a typical sailing ship of the period—the ship’s further adventures with Atlantic storms, coupled with rising costs of managing East Coast vessels carrying freights on the West Coast, encouraged Flint & Co., to sell May Flint to the California Shipping Company in 1897. It is tempting to speculate about just how stable the converted steamer was under sail. Regardless, May Flint continued voyaging in the Pacific for a short while until colliding with the USS Iowa west of Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay, 8 September 1900. These two photographs, both courtesy of the Williamson Collection, Puget Sound Maritime Historical Society, show the May Flint on the Pacific coast. In the first, the May Flint is alongside a coal-loading pier, the tug Rabboni on her starboard side. The Rabboni worked Puget Sound thereby identifying this photograph’s location. The second shows the May Flint making sail (I am guessing—into the sunset). There are crewmen at the fore, but none aloft. My supposition is that the gaskets have been loosed, as May Flint makes way west — towards a setting sun. Note the oddity of the chain plates for the main mast, but the screws set up for the other masts. Note also the large deck house (containing a donkey winch) at the mizzen. The commodious aft chart house must have been a comfort on cold stormy nights.


Ships, Merchant Ships