The Great Tea Race of 1866 - Passage.


Before Ariel had even crossed the bar of the Min River, Captain Keay had the crew working on the fore and aft trim of the ship, a process that continued for over two weeks. Adjustments were needed later in the voyage as stores and water were used. The loaded draft of 18 feet 8 inches forward and 18 feet 3 inches aft was eventually altered to 18 feet 1 inch forward and 18 feet 3 inches aft by moving some of the cargo into the after cabin, and generally moving aft any heavy movable material such as hawsers, casks of salt pork, and spare spars. This improved the steering and general sailing performance. Adjusting the trim went on against the continual background of sail trimming, setting and taking in sails, maintenance work and repairs.

In the early part of the race, Ariel sighted Taeping on 2 June, whilst following the coast of Annam (modern Vietnam) - and again on the 9th and 10th, approaching the coast of Borneo, about 760 NM to the south of the previous sighting. On the 10th Taeping, about 4 miles behind, signalled that they had passed Fiery Cross on the 8th. This put Ariel ahead.

As the ships progressed across the Indian Ocean and around the southern tip of Africa, the race became closer, the lead shifting between the first three. Serica made up a lot of lost ground by the time they were passing St Helena.

The next sighting between any of the participants was on 9 August, when Taeping and Fiery Cross exchanged signals some 12° north of the Equator, in the Atlantic. Winds were light and variable, so they remained in company until 27 August, when a breeze sprang up which carried Taeping out of sight in four or five hours, whilst Fiery Cross suffered the enormous misfortune to remain becalmed for another 24 hours.

The distance between the five ships continued to reduce as they reached the Azores. Ariel, Fiery Cross, Taeping and Serica all passed Flores on 29 August. Taitsing was 48 hours behind them. The next waypoint was entry into the English Channel.