are always warmly welcome -

29 October 2007

The Tea Clippers and their sea routes

The Tea Clippers - An account of the China Tea Trade and of some of the British Sailing Ships engaged in it from 1849 to 1869

by David R. McGregor

With drawings by the Author
London: Percival Marshall & Co., LTD.

[...] There were several routes that could be followed by ships leaving or approaching China, the chief deciding factor on where the ship was to enter or leave the China Sea being the time of year, though the vessel's capabilities had also to be taken into account. Ships built specially for the China trade on fine lines would always lay a course right down the China Sea when homeward-bound, regardless of the season, unless they had a timid or inexperienced captain, or else met with strong south-westerly winds immediately they left, say, Foochow, in which case they would probably stand out into the Pacific go down the eastern coast of Formosa and if the wind was still south/westerly continue down the east side of the Phillipines and then via Gillolo Strait, Pitt Passage, and Ombai Strait, into the Indian Ocean past the island of Timor. Such a route was termed the Eastern passage. Sir Lancelot under Richard Robinson did this in 1867, and only took 99 days on the homeward passage. Other masters might have occupied a week or more extra spent in beating down the China Sea against the south-westerlies. With a shift of wind to the south or south-east ships could get ahead, but perhaps some masters prided themselves in never being beaten by the China Sea passage. Many ships used to make for the coast of Cochin China since land breezes were experienced there at night which enabled the ship to make good progress south. A third homeward route was down the west coast of Luzon and then into the Sulu Sea past Mindoro and from there into the Celebes Sea, Strait of Macassar and thence into the Indian Ocean through Lombok Strait. Ships going down the China Sea would pass into the Indian Ocean by way of Sunda Strait, separating Sumatra from Java, calling at Anjer on the way. The sea between Borneo and Sumatra was studded with islands, there being three passages known as Banka, Gaspar and Carimata Straits. The first was frequently used, though it would appear to be a tortuous and hazardous channel.

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