Captain Andrew Shewan (1849-1927) was the last-surviving tea-clipper captain, and in his 70s set down his experiences in "The Great Days of Sail", his only book, published in the year he died. Brought up in Blackwall, his knowledge of the clippers was gathered from first-hand experience. At the age of 23, he was appointed captain of his first clipper, racing from ports in China with the new season's cargo of tea, and he went on to experience life on board almost every one of the British clippers he mentions, and raced with many of them on the High Seas. He, his father and grandfather before him, lived and worked through a period of the utmost importance for the history of sail. Shewan discusses the tactics of passage-making, evaluates the merits, or otherwise, or well-known clipper ships, and sets down numerous anecdotes to conjure up the flavour of the clipper days. The quirky captains, the crank ships, the great captains, the ships without peer, all are here, set in an age of fierce trade rivalries when to be first was everything and second nothing.
The pirates of the East, uncharted waters and crowded canvas were dangers brushed aside for a favourable wind which could "put a bone in the teeth" of the "Norman Court", "Thermopylae", the "Cutty Sark" or the "Ariel", "the fastest thing the wind ever drove through the water."