From the signal tower high atop the Navesink Highlands, that stood 250 feet over the treacherous entrance to New York Harbor at Sandy Hook, the watcher from the semaphore station stared out from his panoramic view of the Atlantic Ocean in disbelief. On the far horizon to the southeast he spotted what could only be a heavily sparred ship. It was a clear Sunday afternoon, a day when one could see 40 miles out to sea. The anxious watcher focused in his telescope at the rapidly approaching tea clipper flying clouds of canvas that could only be the Sea Witch, ring tails and studding sails set, scudding up the New Jersey coast as she caught the winds from the south-southeast. Her sleek, black hull slicing through the choppy swells, with the crew at last taking in her studding sails one after the other and running up her private signal. It was March 25, 1849, and there were no tea clippers due for another two weeks, but there was no denying that there was the Sea Witch, flaunting her coiled dragon figurehead with the pointed tail, back from her third voyage around the world. Robert Waterman had come romping back from China to New York in 74 days, 14 hours, and beaten the tea fleet home.
The watcher lost little time in jotting down a message on his pad and handed it to the semaphore operator, and soon the message was sent by the long signal arms that would be seen across the bay at the Coney Island semaphore station. The message was immediately sent by telegraph to the Howland & Aspinwall shipping office at 55 South Street. Soon, the waterfront was buzzing with the news. Within hours, a pilot had come aboard the Sea Witch and guided the sleek black tea clipper to her moorings at the South Street wharf. The firm of Howland and Aspinwall would make a fortune at the tea auction and bask in the glory of a new record for the China to New York run. Again, William Aspinwall's hunches and daring had paid off in a big way. With profits more then enough to pay for the building of another clipper.
Upwards of 50 tea-laden ships would follow in the coming weeks. Two of the fleet, the Onieda and the Carrington, both fast ships, had left Macao sailing in company on January 5, 1849. Neither Captain Creesy of the Oneida, or Captain Abbott of the Carrington logged anything about sighting the Sea Witch that day. That was because Waterman had sailed from Whompoa to Hong Kong on January 4th, and sailed from there in the evening hours of January 9th. The Sea Witch shaved over 1,000 miles off the regular route of the Northeast monsoon season for a voyage of 14,255 miles with brief stops at Anjier and St. Helena. Waterman had shaved another three days off his existing record of the China run of 77 days in the Sea Witch on his last voyage, which had shaved a day off his first run back from China in 78 days. He had brought the Sea Witch home on this last scamper which he concluded would never be surpassed, at least by him and the Sea Witch, and was now content to pass on command to his hard driving first mate, George Fraser, and retire. Waterman was forty-three years old and over the course of his three record-breaking China runs had earned a large sum of money. He had promised Cordelia before departing on the third voyage that this would be the last.
New York City went wild with the news of this latest record-breaking run. The Commercial Advertiser wrote:
The splendid ship Sea Witch, Capt. Waterman, arrived here on Sunday in seventy-five days from China, having performed a voyage around the world in 194 sailing days.
During the voyage she has made the shortest direct passages on record, viz.: 69 days from New York to Valparaiso; 50 days from Callao to China; 75 days from China to New York. Distance run by observation from New York to Valparaiso, 10,568 miles; average 6 2/5 miles per hour. Distance from Callao to China, 10,417 miles; average, 8 5/8 knots per hour. Distance from China to New York, 14,225 miles; average, 7 7/8 knots per hour. Best ten (consecutive) days' run, 2,634 miles; 11 1/10 knots per hour.
Waterman basked in his latest limelight at the Astor Bar and soon left for Connecticut to reunite with his wife. Griffiths basked in the limelight as well and was never at a loss for words when praising the ship that was his masterpiece. He wrote:
The model of the Sea Witch had more influence upon the subsequent configuration of fast vessels than any other ship ever built in the United States.