Today in 1866 marked the finish of one of the great sailing ship races ever. From the UK Tea Council website:
The greatest and most famous clipper race took pace in 1866. 10 clippers bound for London set out from Fouchow on 28 May. Fastest away were Taeping, Fiery Cross and Serica, but Ariel swiftly gained on them. So evenly matched were these four ships and their crews that the clippers were frequently within sight of each other as they raced across the Indian Ocean, round the Cape of Good Hope and north across the great Atlantic.
On 29 August the four were dead level at the Azores, but as they entered the Channel Ariel and the Taeping pulled away, the ships magnificent in full sail. Practically the entire population of London was electrified by the news of the race – huge sums had been bet on the ships, while the crews of Fiery Cross and Serica had wagered a month’s pay against each other – and the merchants and dealers on Mincing Lane, the centre of the London tea trade, were beside themselves with excitement.
At the Thames estuary the two ships were still neck and neck, but tugs were needed to tow the ships down the river to dock, and Taeping was fortunate enough to pick a faster tug. With this slender advantage Taeping reached her berth just 20 minutes ahead of Ariel – an amazingly small gap considering the journey had taken 99 days. (Almost as amazing – Serica docked just a few hours after the winning pair, on the same tide, and Fiery Cross less than 48 hours later.)
Despite Taeping’s tiny lead, in the spirit of sportsmanship the race was declared a dead-heat, and the ships’ owners agreed to divide the winner’s premium, while the two crews shared their bonus.
Now that’s exciting racing!
Painting “Ariel and Taeping” by Montague Dawson.