The Age of Sail

“At River’s Edge,” sketch by James Fuller Queen ca. 1850-60.

There is something thrilling and romantic about the sight of a vessel under full sail—or even tied up in harbor. One of the defining moments in the history of Corsair’s Cove is when Captain Daniel Blackthorne, the Wolf of the West, sails his ship the Belle Swift into harbor, and disaster ensues that has repercussions for the next century and a half.

Clipper ship “Challenge,” Currier & Ives, ca. 1835-56

I love to imagine what his ship might have looked like. The Age of Sail is roughly defined as that period between the end of oars and the beginning of steam, or 1571 through about 1870. That’s three hundred years of sails, culminating in the development of the tea clippers, the fastest ships ever built. Their purpose was to bring tea (and, sadly, opium) across the ocean, so time was of the essence. In 1854, the Sovereign of the Seas recorded a speed of 22 knots, or 41 km/h (about 35 miles an hour). American clipper ships held most of the speed records. The most famous one—and loveliest of all, in my opinion—was Cutty Sark, which you can visit today in Greenwich, Connecticut. That’s on my bucket list!

A sailing ship could make the China run the fastest, but when steamships came into use, they didn’t need to rely on the vagaries of the trade winds. They might be slower, and need more in the way of supplies, but they could run on a schedule. Eventually they eclipsed sailing ships and by the early 20th century, sail had begun to decline.

“Until some new motive power replaces steam, or steam is replaced by the use of petroleum or other concentrated fuel, the clipper still has an occupation, and the hearts of all old-time skippers will be gladdened by the sight of her white wings upon the seas.” — Chadwick, F.E., Ocean steamships … (1891) New York: C. Scribner’s Sons, p. 225-226

I don’t know about you, but when I was a kid, it seemed every house had a picture of a sailing ship under full cover, braving a stormy sea. I wonder what happened to the one my parents had …?

Images from the US Library of Congress:


Pumpkin Cookies

The local farmer’s markets are in full swing again, and it’s about time because my stock of frozen produce is dwindling—including the many containers of pumpkin puree I baked and bagged in October. I make a lot of pumpkin soup, but I also use it in baking because it produces moist, melty treats without adding a lot of fat. Because I’ve already prepped and measured it out, it’s basically thaw and go. Of course, canned works just as well for most things but it’s nice to have the option.

Here’s a recipe for pumpkin cookies that really do taste like what my grandma used to make. She taught me to bake while she babysat me, and I’ll always remember standing on a stool in her kitchen while she let me get my hands into the sticky, floury, sweet-scented bowls of dough. This isn’t her recipe, but it’s the type of thing she’d make—practical, plentiful, and tasting like home. These aren’t super-sweet, but you can adjust the sugar to taste.

Pumpkin cookies

  • ½ cup butter
  • ¾ cup brown sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1.5 cups of pumpkin puree
  • 2.5 cups flour
  • 4 tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp cinnamon
  • ½ tsp nutmeg
  • 1 cup chopped nuts (I use walnuts)
  • 1 cup seedless raisins (I use Thompson)


Cream butter and sugar, then add eggs and vanilla and beat until light. Then add the pumpkin puree.

Sift dry ingredients together and fold into the wet until just mixed and no dry flour shows. Then stir in nuts and raisins.

Drop by spoonfuls onto a greased cookie sheet. Moisture can vary when using fresh or frozen pumpkin, so take note of the consistency of the batter. It will be quite sticky but should hold its shape when spooned onto the cookie sheet. Add a little flour if it wants to spread or run.

Bake in a 375 degree oven for about 15 minutes. The cookies should be golden brown on the bottom when they’re done. Makes about 4-5 dozen. These cookies freeze well (if they last that long!).