The Suez Canal and the Cutty Sark

The Suez Canal and the Cutty Sark. The canal is about 100 miles long, and almost 1,000 feet wide at its narrowest point and is located on the North East cost of Africa, allowing passage from the Mediterranean to the Indian Ocean.

The canal spelled the death-knell for the Tea-Clippers like the Cutty Sark. The clippers had to be the fastest boat home with the tea, but as the canal was too narrow to allow a sailboat to tack against the wind, only steam-powered vessels could make the passage. Luckily for the Cutty Sark, however, her owners discovered she could carry more wool than tea – 1,000 tons of bags of wool squeezed into the hold versus 500 tons of tea in boxes. So she continued to ply her way round the bottom of Africa, carrying wool from Australia to England and cotton and wool goods from England back to the colony.

In 1895 she was sold to J. Ferreira & Co. who renamed her the Ferreira. She transported cargoes between Portugal and Rio, New Orleans, Mozambique, Angola and the UK. In October 1915 Portugal declared war on Germany and the ship was in danger of being sunk by enemy activity. In May 1916, while rolling in bad weather, the main mast and everything above the fore lowermast and the mizzen top-masts gave way and she was towed to Table Bay in South Africa. Over the next 18 months, and to save materials made costly by the war, she was converted into a barquentine rig. She was later sold to another Portuguese owner and then in 1923 was bought by Wilfred Dowman, a retired windjammer skipper, for £3,750, more than she was worth in most people’s minds. She thus returned to British ownership and her name was restored.

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