In Nature's Great Race, follow every life and death decision these herds make as they overcome immense obstacles and face fearless predators in a race to reach their destination.
Runtime: 60 minutes
Nature's Great Race - Great Tea Race of 1866 - Netflix
In the middle third of the 19th Century, the clippers which carried cargoes of tea from China to Britain would compete in informal races to be first ship to dock in London with the new crop of each season. The Great Tea Race of 1866 was keenly followed in the press, with an extremely close finish. Taeping docked 28 minutes before Ariel - after a passage of more than 14,000 miles. Ariel had been ahead when the ships were taken in tow by steam tugs off Deal, but after waiting for the tide at Gravesend the deciding factor was the height of tide at which one could enter the different docks used by each ship. The third finisher, Serica, docked an hour and 15 minutes after Ariel. These three ships had left China on the same tide and arrived at London 99 days later to dock on the same tide. The next to arrive, 28 hours later, was Fiery Cross, followed, the next day, by Taitsing. Given the close finish, and fearing that the consignees might find reason to avoid payment, the prize, or “premium”, was claimed by Taeping but shared between them and Ariel, by agreement of their agents and owners. 1866 was the last time that a premium was written into the bill of lading of a tea clipper for docking in London with the first of the new crop. Though clippers raced with cargoes of tea for a few more years, the only commercial advantage was in the reputation as a fast ship, thereby securing a better rate of freight in the future. Whilst the outcome thrilled its followers, it was clear to some that the days of the tea clipper were numbered. The auxiliary steamer Erl King had sailed from Foochow 8 days after Ariel, carrying both passengers and a cargo of tea. She arrived in London 15 days before the sailing ships. The SS Agamemnon, a much more fuel efficient ship than her contemporaries, had just made the fastest ever outward passage to China of 65 days and was on her way to London with a cargo of tea that was two or three times larger than a clipper could carry. The Suez Canal was under construction (and opened in 1869). This would give a much shorter route (a reduction of about 3,300 NM or nearly a quarter less distance), so favouring the steamships, as the Canal was not a practical option for sailing vessels.
Nature's Great Race - Final stages - Netflix
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 8 September. Taitsing arrived on the morning of 9 September.