United Kingdom
BuilderWalter Hood & Co, Aberdeen
NotesDesign of Bernard Waymouth, London
Kingdom of Portugal
NamePedro Nunes or Pedro Nunez
FateTorpedoed at sea, 13 October 1907, off Cascais
General characteristics
Class and typeComposite extreme clipper; naval training ship
Length212 ft (64.6 m)[1]
Beam36 ft (11.0 m)[1]
Depth20.9 ft (6.4 m)[1]
Sail planfully rigged ship[1]
Scale model of Thermopylae, Aberdeen Maritime Museum
Scale model of Thermopylae, Aberdeen Maritime Museum

Thermopylae was an extreme composite clipper ship built in 1868 by Walter Hood & Co of Aberdeen, to the design of Bernard Waymouth of London.[1]


Lines of Thermopylae
Lines of Thermopylae

Thermopylae was built for the Aberdeen Line, which was founded in 1825 by George Thompson. She measured 212' × 36' × 20.9', with tonnage 991 GRT, 948 NRT and 927 tons under deck. The hull planking was American rock elm from the garboard to the light water line, and then teak from there to the rail. Being of composite construction, the planking was fastened over an iron frame. She had exceptionally fine lines. The coefficient of under deck tonnage was 0.58. This compares with, for instance, Cutty Sark at 0.55 (i.e. slightly sharper than Thermopylae) and Ariel at 0.60. Iron was used for the fore and main lower masts and, when built, the yards for these masts.[1]: 189-192 


Thermopylae was designed for the China tea trade. Her outbound passage was usually to Australia. On her maiden voyage, starting November 1868, she set a speed record of 63 days from Gravesend to Hobsons Bay, Melbourne, or 60 days measured from the Lizard. On the return trip, leaving Fuzhou on 3 July 1869, she was 89 days to the Lizard, or 91 to London. Her first 10 outward passages to Melbourne averaged 69 days (starting from the Lizard) and her eleven homeward voyages with a cargo of tea averaged 106 and a half days.[1]: 189-192 

Thermopylae was particularly suited to the tea trade, putting in excellent performances in light winds. Although fast on all point of sailing, she was especially quick sailing to windward. Both of these characteristics were important for getting across the China Sea, and it was this section of the homeward passage which was crucial for achieving a fast time back to London.[1]: 31, 189-192 

Her last tea passage was in 1881. After that, she carried wool home from Sydney. On this route she did not perform as well as her rival Cutty Sark as she no longer had the advantage of her light wind performance. In 1890 she was sold to Canadian owners and used in the timber trade. At this stage her rig was reduced to barque, with some further reductions in the height of her fore and main masts; she had already seen the height of some of her masts reduced during her time in the wool trade. In 1892 she served on routes across the Pacific Ocean from Canada, before being sold to the Portuguese government in 1896.[1]: 189-192 

Race with Cutty Sark

Thermopylae 1882-1907
Thermopylae 1882-1907

In 1872, Thermopylae raced the clipper Cutty Sark from Shanghai back to London. Thermopylae won by seven days after Cutty Sark lost her rudder. From 1882 onward, Thermopylae took part in the Australian wool trade; however, on this route Cutty Sark proved faster.[2]

Naval training ship

After her sale to Portugal, she was use as a naval training ship and renamed Pedro Nunes. On 13 October 1907, the Portuguese Navy had her towed down the Tagus River and sunk by naval gunfire.[1]: 192 


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k MacGregor, David R. (1983). The Tea Clippers, Their History and Development 1833-1875. Conway Maritime Press Limited. pp. 189–192. ISBN 0-85177-256-0.
  2. ^ Carr, Frank G G, CBE, MA (December 1964) [December 1954], Cutty Sark, last of the clippers, The "Cutty Sark" Society, p. 4 – via reprinted from Yachting World

Further reading