Cutty Sark burns in suspicious fire, but she may be restored
The Cutty Sark
963-ton clipper in the China tea trade
launched 1869 Glasgow Scotland
painting by William Bishop (Britain 20th century)
Cutty Sark figurehead photo by Mickelodeon
The Cutty Sark is the most magnificent great commercial ship to survive from the age of wood and sail. By a miracle of love and adoring memory, she still exists as a tourist attraction.
She was being refitted in dry dock in Greenwich, England, with a re-opening scheduled for 2009, when she was ravaged by a fire of suspicious origin this weekend. Fortunately, her masts and much of the rest of her had been removed and stored elsewhere.
It's going to take a shitload of money, but it's believed she can be restored again.
The Times (London UK)
Monday 21 May 2007
The life and times
of the Cutty Sark
The Cutty Sark is the world’s only surviving tea clipper, having briefly plied her trade between Britain and China in the 1870s.
She was designed for speed to bring back the first tea harvest of the year, and in her day was regarded as a very modern vessel.
Built in 1869 in Dumbarton, near Glasgow, and originally designed to last just 30 years, the Cutty Sark is a rare construction with a wrought iron frame clad in timber. Scott & Linton - the first shipyard involved in her construction - went bankrupt as it struggled to cope with her exacting specifications. The ship was completed by Dennys.
Among her revolutionary design features the crew had lavatories, called the heads, at a time when answering the call of nature was usually done by squatting over the side of the ship.
Her Scottish origins are preserved in her name, which means “short shirt” in 18th century Scots. Robert Burns used the term in his poem Tam O’Shanter to describe the garment worn by a fleet-footed witch.
On the bow of the ship is the motto: “Where there’s a Willis a way”, a play on the name of the first owner, Jock ’White Hat’ Willis, so called for his trademark white top hat.
The Cutty Sark was one of the last tea clippers, narrow-beamed sailing ships that could make fortunes for their owners if they were first back to London, because the first tea cargo of the season could be sold at a premium. People used to bet on which vessel would win the race and the first sighting of a clipper’s tall masts off the English coast would be major news in the capital.
She was never the fastest, losing out by a week to the Thermopylae after a dramatic race from Shanghai to London in 1872 in which the Cutty Sark lost her rudder in heavy storms. Her notable performances included 360 nautical miles in 24 hours, or an average of 15 knots, the best speed for any ship of its size.
The Suez Canal was opened the week before work on her was completed, and quickly made tea clippers redundant. Steamers used the shorter sea route, while the sailing ships still went out by the Trade Winds and home by the Cape of Good Hope.
In 1875 her master Captain Tiptaft brought Cutty Sark home from Shanghai in 108 days, but the SS Glenartney took only 42 days through the canal. Cutty Sark's last tea run between Britain and China was in 1878.
Between 1883 and 1895 she sailed in the Australia wool trade, and here she did set a record, achieving the voyage from Australia to England in 72 days in 1885 via Cape Horn.
Her experiences were not always happy. One trip in the early 1880s proved so disastrous that it was dubbed the “Hell Ship” voyage, after a seaman named John Francis was killed, the crew mutinied and Captain Wallace committed suicide.
In her heyday the ship employed a team of riggers to maintain the 11 miles of rigging. She carried 32,000 square feet of canvas sails, equivalent to the area of 11 tennis courts.
When the weather was good everyone on board worked at least a 12 hour day, seven days a week. In bad weather they would be on deck many more hours under cold, wet and dangerous conditions.
Passing Cape Horn the deck would be washed down by the great, breaking sea rollers. The ship would heel 40 degrees, with the crew clinging on for dear life as they climbed into the rigging to shorten sail before the storm.
Her most celebrated Master, Captain Woodget, is noted for having introduced a breed of collie dogs to New South Wales. He was also an accomplished amateur photographer, photographing the crew and the ship’s voyages - including a dramatic encounter with an iceberg.
Between 1895 and 1922 she passed into Portuguese ownership, and was used as a general cargo vessel, renamed first as Ferreira and then as Maria do Amparo.
The Cutty Sark became part of a floating naval school in 1922 and made her last voyage in 1938 from Falmouth, in Cornwall, to her current berth next to the River Thames at Greenwich, home of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT).
She was saved from the scrapheap and fully restored in the 1950s, placed in a concrete dry dock. Since opening as a museum in 1957 she has attracted more than 15 million visitors. She was awarded the status of a Grade I listed monument, the highest rank for buildings of outstanding or national architectural or historic interest.
The ship - a familiar site to runners of the London Marathon at the 6.5-mile (10.5 km) mark - was being restored when the blaze struck.
A survey in the late 1990s had found that corrosion of wrought iron in the ship’s hull would make it unsafe within approximately 10 years, triggering the restoration project. In addition, a glass “bubble” was going to be attached at the ship’s waterline to give year-round protection to the lower hull and to visitors in the dry berth.
She was closed to the public in November last year for work to begin such as mechanical cleaning and applying preventative coatings. She had been awarded a grant of £13 million by the Heritage Lottery Fund towards the £25 million cost of the work, and was due to re-open in 2009.
Labels: Cutty Sark Greenwich tea clipper