The Great Tea Race of 1866 - Finish of the race.

Finish of the race.

Ariel sighted the Bishop Light at 1:30 am on 5 September 1866. With all possible sail set, she sped toward the mouth of the English Channel. At daybreak, another ship was seen on the starboard quarter, also carrying every stitch of canvas that she could. Captain Keay of Ariel later said "Instinct told me that it was the Taeping" - and he was right. A strong west-southwesterly wind carried these two ships up the channel at 14 knots. The Lizard was abeam at 8:00 am and Start Point at noon. The two ships were off Portland towards 6:00 pm and St. Catherine's Point was due north at 7:25 pm. Beachy Head was abeam just after midnight. The relative positions of the two ships barely shifted all this while - Ariel kept her lead.

At 3:00 am on the 6th, Ariel was approaching Dungeness, so started signalling for a pilot. At 4:00 am she hove to and continued to signal with flares and rockets. Taeping, also signalling for a pilot, was coming up fast and was close astern of Ariel at 5:00 am. There was no sign that Taeping would heave to, so Captain Keay ordered Ariel's sails to be filled to keep ahead of the other ship, to be sure of getting the first pilot. On Taeping Captain MacKinnon conceded and also hove to.

At 5:55 am the pilot arrived on board Ariel. He saluted Captain Keay with congratulations at being the first ship from China that season. He got the reply "Yes, and what is that to the westward? We have not room to boast yet." At 6:00 am both ships were under way, heading for South Foreland. Despite Taeping resorting to setting some stunsails, Ariel was about a mile ahead. Then both ships signalled for a tug. Here luck was with Taeping, as the better tug put a towline aboard her, so she took the lead as they were towed round the coastline of Kent and into the Thames.

Taeping arrived at Gravesend some 55 minutes before Ariel, but that gave her no advantage as both ships then had to wait for the tide to rise sufficiently. Ariel then had the shorter distance to go - arriving outside East India Dock gates at 9:00 pm, but the tide was still too low for the gates to open. Taeping carried on up-river to London Docks. Here, unlike the entrance to the East India Dock, there was an inner and outer set of gates. Taeping's shallower draft allowed her through the outer gates, then they topped up the lock from the dock basin. She passed through at 9:47 pm. Ariel entered East India Dock at 10:15 pm.

While Ariel and Taeping were racing up the English coast of the Channel, Serica had been speeding along the French side. She passed through the Downs at noon and just managed, at 11:30 pm, to get into the West India Dock before the lock gates were shut.

This meant that these three ships had left China on the same tide, sailed over 14,000 miles in a race lasting 99 days, then all docked in London on the same tide, with less than two hours between them.

Fiery Cross was not far behind the first three - she sighted the Isle of Wight at 10:00 am on 7 September but, on arriving in the Downs, was compelled to anchor because the wind had now risen to gale force. She docked in London at 8:00 am on the 8th. Taitsing arrived on the morning of the 9th.