2008: No Tea on the “Tea Route” Record Breaker!

Published in Scuttlebutt Euope, 28 Sept. 2008

About this latest so-called “Tea Route” Record: like many sailing fans, I have followed the progress of Lionel Lemonchois and the crew of the 110′ catamaran Gitana 13 on their stop-and-go voyage around the world. I think it is wonderful that a big sponsored boat has finally gone around the world on a route that’s off the beaten track and had the panache to break minor records, stop in exotic ports, and enjoy the sights! Mon dieu, next they will be demanding real food and wine on board!

I hate to be the curmudgeon, mais excusez-moi, the mention of drink reminds me of a small but significant error that regrettably cancels out their entire magnificent six-week effort–in my humble opinion. The Gitana team have always referred to this course as the Tea Route, yet there was no mention of loading so much as a single tea bag on board the catamaran in China; amongst all those daily reports, no mention of a single cuppa char’ warming the crew on a cold night.

It so happens that I grew up in Greenwich, in SE London close to the Cutty Sark, and was ‘steeped’ (if you ‘ll forgive the pun) in the history of the tea clippers, where the first ship home was celebrated and received the best price for its cargo. That’s why I have to insist that you really can’t race the ‘Tea Route’ without any tea on board!

Yes, Gitana 13 set a new record from Hong Kong to London, but no, they didn’t break the Tea Clipper record. The only civilized way to run a modern ‘Tea Race’ is with a ceremonial presentation of Chinese tea to the yacht at the start and its acceptance by a welcoming committee in London at the finish. Personally, I think carrying anything less than a chest of tea is unacceptable, but in these weight-conscious times, some might set the minimum at 1,000 tea bags – enough for 2 1/2 cups per man per day.

English tea-drinking sailors, there is an opportunity to remedy this situation! The fastest catamaran in the world, the 120′ Orange II, is for sale. We must find a tea company with the nerve and the money to fund a race along the Tea Route that respects a British tradition of the sea. I’m sure the tea that is carried from China by a modern sailing vessel will fetch a premium in Britain and might even make a profit on the whole venture.

Editor’s note: A couple of years ago the trimaran Great America made the dash from Hong Kong to New York (and set a new record in the process). A box of tea was presented to the crew at a ceremony at the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club, so presumably Mr Marsh will be happy that the HK-NY record is indeed the real Tea Route record.


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