The Great Rivals: Thermopylae and the Cutty Sark

The tea clippers where the legends of the day, Thermopylae was a clipper ship owned by Walter Hood of the White Star Line. The ship was launched in 1868, built one year before the Cutty Sark. The ships maiden voyage was to Melbourne Australia which she did in just 60 days, captained by Kemball

It light winds the Thermopylae had the edge in speed over the Cutty Sark, she was built of a lighter construction. Over a 24 hrs time frame the ship travelled a distance 358 nautical miles (412 miles or 663km), maintaining an average speed of 17 knots.

The Cutty Sark was 6 inches longer but the Thermopylae had a gross tonnage of 991 tons, some 30 tons more than its rival. In view both ships where built at the same point in history is highlighted by their transparent looking designs, iron frames planked with wood. The Cutty Sark had more elaborate fittings including a most impressive Teak deck.

The captain of the Thermopylae was an experienced seaman of the waterways and conditions and knew how to utilise these to his advantage. He was noted as being fearless and had a crew who were in it to win it and knew their ship very well. He was a master of Clippers so had a lot of experience. Kemball and his wife were not as popular as the Captain and his wife of the Cutty Sark.

The great race between Thermopylae and the Cutty Sark

The great race began on the 26th June 1872 from Shanghai China to London.

16th Aug 7 weeks into the race the Cutty Sark lost its Rudder of the coast of South Africa. On board, they did repairs. It arrived back in the UK 19th October 9 days after Thermopylae. They admired the crew of the Cutty Sark for the seamanship and ingenuity to repair whilst on onboard. John Willis gave the carpenter Henderson £50 for saving the sip.

Both ships were held in the fog for the first 3 days of the race

At one point the Cutty Sark was in a 400 mile lead of the Thermopylae  before disaster struck

Once CuttySark got to the Indian Ocean this is where the Rudder broke due to a Gale which had ruined sails, which Thermopylae did not encounter. The makeshift rudder broke, they repaired it. Admired by many for the team effort and courage and skill to complete a repair job normally done in a dry dock and whilst they kept on sailing. Without the rudder, in those conditions, the ship was trying to roll under. They did not have wood large enough to make a new rudder on board either. Spare spars are what all ships carried so they had to use those.

The most famous Stowaway in History

The Iron pintles broke off so they needed a new one of these too. The Main Carpenter of the Ship was a man named Henry Henderson. This job was ironwork, they needed a Blacksmith. By Chance, two stowaways were on board, one a young blacksmith, and the other a shipwright. According to the documentary on TV recently the Blacksmith was able to help the crew create an onboard Forge ( blacksmith workstation ) but because the workshop which you can still visit today was so small, they had to do much of this work on the outer deck, exposed to the elements. When water broke overboard they were suffering injury and toil. The Main Carpenter of the Ship was a man named Henry Henderson. CHECK WHO GOT THE REWARD  The reward was £50 in today’s money 5.5 grand.

The race was lost, Cutty Sark sailed in 7 days after Thermopylae had landed, but the public and all those in the shipping world admired the crew for their ability to do onboard repairs and keep sailing in treacherous conditions heroic.

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