The Cutty Sark and the Thermopylae were rivals in the China Tea trade throughout their careers. Although they often left port within hours of each other, there was never a race like the one that occurred in the 1872 season.
As the two ships were loading alongside each other in Shanghai, everyone realized that this year was going to be the "Battle of the Titans," and both ships and their seamen would be tested to the utmost. Each captain exercised his option to carry a light cargo in the hope of making up the difference in glory, fame and the 10-shilling per ton premium paid to the first ship to reach London.
Cutty Sark finished loading first and got under way; Thermopylae loaded her last chest and followed. For the next few days the weather was against them both. Masses of dark, heavy, rainclouds filled the sky with typical monsoon weather- - just the thing for an exciting passage.
Squalls and mountainous seas favored the heavier Thermopylae, and she pulled ahead of the composite built Cutty Sark. The chase continued until the wind came up strong and squally from the south. The Thermopylae had to change course and bore away north, to the Cutty Sark's delight.
The ships came in sight of each other again near Borneo. The light winds were advantageous to the Cutty Sark and she pulled ahead until the coast of Anjer where she was delayed by waterspouts. The Thermopylae ran past Cutty Sark, but both ships stalled in the Sunda Straits. When the wind picked up, the Thermopylae left Cutty Sark behind, and she regained the lead in the Indian Ocean, but alas, it was there that the Cutty Sark's luck ran out. She lost her rudder and spent a week making repairs. Needless to say, the Thermopylae finished first in this exciting race.
In an interesting twist of fate, both ships were later sold to the Portugese Navy and used as training ships.
Here, talented artist Efren Erese spotlights this fine ship as she traverses the high seas.