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Last of the Tea Clippers

On the afternoon of Monday, 22nd November, 1869, a beautiful little clipper ship of 963 tons was launched from Scott and Linton's shipyard at Dumbarton, on the Clyde.

She bore a name that was to become famous throughout the world and was destined to win a place in the hearts of British seamen second only to Nelson's immortal Victory herself.

Her name was the Cutty Sark.

Cutty Sark receives hundreds of thousands of visitors every year, from all over the world.

The Owner

On the afternoon of Monday, 22nd November 1869, a beautiful little clipper ship of 963 tons gross was launched at Dumbarton on the Scottish Clyde. On that day, she was given a name that was to become renowned throughout the seafaring world, and destined to win a place in the hearts of British seamen ~ second only to Nelson's own immortal HMS Victory ~ and that was Cutty Sark. Cutty Sark was built for John 'Jock' Willis, a seasoned sailing ship master who had 'swallowed the anchor' and set up as a fleet owner in the port of London. Here he became better known as "White Hat Willis" because he always wore a white top hat.His previous vessels had not had the performance results he wanted and his ambition for Cutty Sark was for her to be the fastest ship in the annual race to bring home the first of the new season's tea from China.

The Designer

The ship was designed by Hercules Linton, a partner in the Dumbarton firm of Scott & Linton. His achievement was to mould the bowlines of Willis's earlier vessel, The Tweed into the midship attributes of Firth of Forth fishing boats, creating a beautiful new hull shape that was stronger, could take more sail, and be driven harder than any other. The company had never built a ship of this size before and were keen to accommodate their client's every demand. Unfortunately for them, Willis, being so canny a Scot and wanting the best for the least, drove so hard a bargain that the builders, together with their brilliant young designer, sank without trace! The final details of the fitting out had to be completed by another company ~ William Denny & Brothers

The Masters

Although her early years under her first master, Captain George Moodie, saw some sterling performances, fate was to thwart her owner's hopes of glory in the tea trade: in the very same year of her launching, the Suez Canal was opened, allowing steamers to reach the Far East via the Mediterranean, a shorter and quicker route not accessible to sailing ships, whose freights eventually fell so much that the tea trade was no longer profitable. So Cutty Sark's involvement in the China run was short lived, her last cargo of tea being carried in 1877.For the next several years, she was forced to seek cargos where she could get them, and it was not until 1885 that she began the second (and more illustrious) stage of her career.The ship's heyday was in the Australian wool trade, which was overseen by Captain Richard Woodget (pictured here sporting a Tam O'Shanter), from 1885 to 1895. Here was a virtuoso mariner who 'played' the Cutty Sark like the responsive 'instrument' she was: He knew how to get the last quarter-knot from the ship, and, during his time, she repeatedly made the fastest passage home from Australia.And yet by 1895, she was again no longer making money for her owner and was unceremoniously sold off to the Portuguese and renamed as Ferreira ~ although her crews referred to her (significantly) as Camisola Pequenina ('little shirt').

The Cinderella Years

She laboured steadfastly for her new masters for almost three more decades ~ regularly trading between Oporto, Rio, New Orleans and Lisbon, in the service of Portugal's colonial possessions.Dismasted in a storm in the Indian Ocean in 1916, she was re-rigged as a barquentine to carry less sail ~ a decision necessitated by a wartime shortage of spar timber.In 1920 she was sold again to another Portuguese company being renamed Maria do Amparo in 1922.She is pictured, above, in a sorry condition in 1922, at which time she underwent a refit at London's Surrey Docks. On her journey home from that refit, she was driven into Falmouth Harbour by a fateful Channel gale.

Enter Prince Charming

This gale was 'fateful' because she was spotted there by Captain Wilfred Dowman, a Cornish mariner who, as an apprentice seaman back in 1894, had seen her 'slicing by' at full sail and had never forgotten that breathtaking sight.She was now very much dilapidated, so Captain Dowman made his move ~ he approached her Portuguese owners, bought her for the sum of £3,750 and had her restored, re-rigged and flying the 'Red Duster' once again.Upon Capt. Dowman's death in 1938, his widow presented the newly restored clipper to the Incorporated Thames Nautical Training College at Greenhithe on the Thames, where the vessel remained until after the Second World War, when the college acquired a larger, steel-built ship for its cadets. Once more, Cutty Sark became 'surplus to requirements'.

Happily Ever After

Lengthy discussions ensued over her future, which ultimately led to her being towed to a mooring off Greenwich in 1951 for the festival of Britain. Eventually, the Cutty Sark Society was formed by HRH The Duke of Edinburgh and the ship was gifted to the society. In December 1954 she was moved into a specially constructed dry dock at Greenwich.Since her official opening in 1957 by HM The Queen, Cutty Sark has been visited by over 15 million people from all over the world.Now, 134 years after her launch (long since outliving her life expectancy of just 30 years), she is still a beautiful vessel, delighting her visitors.

Take a tour of her decks and find out about the urgent need for restoration to save the world's sole surviving tea clipper for future generations.

Click on Thumbnails on right to view enlarged image:


A Scary Story!
So, how did Cutty Sark get her name... if you are sitting comfortably I'll begin... but be warned it's scary!

The Hell Voyage
In the spring of 1880 the American Naval Fleet was in Japanese waters and in need of coal. Many tea clippers had ceased the tea trade as a result of the opening of the Suez Canal and were now carrying general cargos. This is the story of one of the Cutty Sark's voyages.

The Jury Rudder
During the 1870s there was great kudos in owning the first ship home with the new season's tea, and Cutty Sark had been built specifically to win this race and to challenge Thermopylae who at that time was regarded as the fastest vessel.

The Cutty Sark is in need of support! The conservation and development of Cutty Sark as an historic vessel of international importance is a major priority of the Cutty Sark Trust. The restoration programme is ongoing and expected to cost in the region of £25 million. All donations are gratefully received.

Please donate @ Give Now!

From Wikipedia - This License applies to the following article

The Cutty Sark is a clipper ship. Built in 1869, she served as a merchant vessel (the last clipper to be built for that purpose), and then as a training ship until being put on public display in 1954. She is preserved in dry dock in Greenwich, London. However, the ship was badly damaged in a fire on 21 May 2007 while undergoing extensive restoration. The ship will be reopened in Summer 2010. The Cutty Sark is the only remaining original Clipper ship from the 1800s.



The ship is named after the cutty sark (Scots: a short chemise or undergarment[2]). This was the nickname of the fictional character Nannie Dee (which is also the name of the ship's figurehead) in Robert Burns' 1791 comic poem Tam o' Shanter. She was wearing a linen cutty sark that she had been given as a child, therefore it was far too small for her. The erotic sight of her dancing in such a short undergarment caused Tam to cry out "Weel done, Cutty-sark", which subsequently became a well known idiom.


Cutty Sark under sail

She was designed by Hercules Linton and built in 1869 at Dumbarton, Scotland, by the firm of Scott & Linton, for Captain John "Jock" "White Hat" Willis;[3] Cutty Sark was launched on November 22 of that year, and after Scott & Linton was liquidated she was completed by William Denny & Brothers for John Willis & Son.[4]

Cutty Sark was destined for the tea trade, then an intensely competitive race across the globe from China to London, with immense profits to the ship to arrive with the first tea of the year. However, she did not distinguish herself; in the most famous race, against Thermopylae in 1872, both ships left Shanghai together on June 18, but two weeks later Cutty Sark lost her rudder after passing through the Sunda Strait, and arrived in London on October 18, a week after Thermopylae, a total passage of 122 days. Her legendary reputation is supported by the fact that her captain chose to continue this race with an improvised rudder instead of putting into port for a replacement, yet was beaten by only one week.

In the end, clippers lost out to steamships, which could pass through the recently-opened Suez Canal and deliver goods more reliably, if not quite so quickly, which proved to be better for business. Notably, during the transition period to steam the Cutty Sark sailed faster than some steamships including mail packets on a destination and condition basis Cutty Sark was then used on the Australian wool trade. Under the respected Captain Richard Woodget, she did very well, posting Australia-to-Britain times of as little as 67 days. Her best run, 360 nautical miles (666 km) in 24 hours (an average 15 kn (28 km/h), was said to have been the fastest of any ship of her size.

In 1895 Willis sold her to the Portuguese firm Ferreira and she was renamed Ferreira after the firm, although her crews referred to her as Pequena Camisola ("little shirt", a straight translation of the Scots "cutty sark").[5] In 1916 she was dismasted off the Cape of Good Hope, sold, re-rigged in Cape Town as a barquentine, and renamed Maria do Amparo. In 1922 she was bought by Captain Wilfred Dowman, who restored her to her original appearance and used her as a stationary training ship in Greenhithe, Kent. In 1954 she was moved to a custom-built dry-dock at Greenwich[6].

Cutty Sark is also preserved in literature in Hart Crane's long poem "The Bridge" which was published in 1930.

Museum ship

Cutty Sark in Greenwich, October 2003

The Cutty Sark was preserved as a museum ship, and has since become a popular tourist attraction, and part of the National Historic Fleet, Core Collection. She is located near the centre of Greenwich, in south-east London, close aboard the National Maritime Museum, the former Greenwich Hospital, and Greenwich Park. She is also a prominent landmark on the route of the London Marathon. She usually flies signal flags from her ensign halyard reading "JKWS", which is the code representing Cutty Sark in the International Code of Signals, introduced in 1857.

The ship is in the care of the Cutty Sark Trust, whose president, the Duke of Edinburgh, was instrumental in ensuring her preservation, when he set up the Cutty Sark Society in 1951. The Trust replaced the Society in 2000[6][7]. She is a Grade I listed monument and is on the Buildings At Risk Register.

Cutty Sark station on the Docklands Light Railway is one minute's walk away, with connections to central London and the London Underground. Greenwich Pier is next to the ship, and is served by scheduled river boats from piers in central London. A tourist information office stands to the east of the ship.

Conservation and fire

Cutty Sark on fire.

On the morning of 21 May 2007 the Cutty Sark, which had been closed and partly dismantled for conservation work, caught fire, and burned for several hours before the London Fire Brigade could bring the fire under control. Initial reports indicated that the damage was extensive, with most of the wooden structure in the centre having been lost.[8]

In an interview the next day, Richard Doughty, the chief executive of the Cutty Sark Trust revealed that at least half of the "fabric" (timbers, etc) of the ship had not been on site as it had been removed during the preservation work. Doughty expressed that the trust was most worried about the state of iron framework to which the fabric was attached.[8] He did not know how much more the ship would cost to restore, but estimated it at an additional £5–10 million, bringing the total cost of the ship's restoration to £30–35 million.[9]

After initial analysis of the CCTV footage of the area suggested the possibility of arson, further investigation over the following days by Scotland Yard failed to find conclusive proof that the fire was set deliberately.[10]

Aerial video footage showed extensive damage, but seemed to indicate that the ship had not been destroyed in its entirety. A fire officer present at the scene said in a BBC interview that when they arrived, there had been "a well-developed fire throughout the ship". The bow section looked to be relatively unscathed and the stern also appeared to have survived without major damage. The fire seemed to have been concentrated in the centre of the ship.[11] The chairman of Cutty Sark Enterprises said after inspecting the site: "The decks are unsalvageable but around 50% of the planking had already been removed; however, the damage is not as bad as originally expected."

As part of the restoration work planned before the fire, it was proposed that the ship be raised three metres, to allow the construction of a state of the art museum space beneath. This would allow visitors to view her from below.[12]

For a long time, there had been growing criticism of the policies of the Cutty Sark Trust and its stance that the most important thing was to preserve as much as possible of the original fabric. The fire damage has been put forth as a reason for the Cutty Sark to be rebuilt in a manner that would allow her to put to sea again by proponents of the idea.[13] However, the Cutty Sark Trust have found that less than 5% of the original fabric was lost in the fire, as the decks which were destroyed were non-original additions.

In addition to explaining how and why the ship is being saved, the exhibition features a new film presentation, a re-creation of the master's saloon, and interactive exhibits about the project. Live webcam views of the conservation work allow the visitor to see remotely the work being carried out on the ship.[14]

The design for the renovation project by Youmeheshe architects with Grimshaw architects and Buro Happold engineers involves raising the ship out of her dry berth using a Kevlar web, allowing visitors to pass under the hull.

Oscar-winning producer Jerry Bruckheimer has aided in the repair and restoration of the Cutty Sark. A collection of photos taken by Bruckheimer went on display in London in November 2007 to help raise money for the Cutty Sark Conservation Project. The exhibition featured more than thirty pictures taken on set during the filming of Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End[15]

In January 2008 the Heritage Lottery Fund awarded the Cutty Sark Trust another £10 million towards the restoration of the ship, meaning that the Trust had now achieved £30 million of the £35 million needed for the completion of the project.[16]

In June 2008, Israeli shipping magnate Sammy Ofer donated the final £3.3 million need to fully restore the ship.[17]

Investigation conclusion

On 30 September 2008, the London Fire Brigade announced the conclusion of the investigation into the fire at a press conference at New Scotland Yard. The painstaking investigation was conducted by the LFB, along with London's Metropolitan Police Service, Forensic Science Services, and electrical examination experts Dr. Burgoyne's & Partners. They said that the most likely cause was the failure of an industrial vacuum cleaner that had inadvertently been left switched on for 48 hours before the fire started.

Physical evidence and CCTV footage of the fire showed that it probably started towards the stern of the ship on the lower deck after the failure of a motor inside the vacuum cleaner, which was being used to remove waste from the ship as part of its renovation programme, and which had been left running throughout the weekend before the fire broke out the following Monday.

On the basis of witness evidence, the joint investigation team considered it unlikely that the fire was caused by the hot work that was being carried out as part of the renovation or by carelessly discarded smokers' materials. The report also reveals that there was no evidence that the ship was subjected to an arson attack and concludes that the fire was started accidentally.[18]

General specifications

The Cutty Sark is one of only three surviving ships of its time that has a composite wrought iron frame structure covered by wooden planking. The hull has a Muntz metal coating.[19]

  • Tonnage: 921 tons (2,608 m³)
  • Hull length: 212.5 ft (64.8 m)
  • Beam: 36 ft (11 m)
  • Draft: 21 ft (6.4 m)

Yard lengths (after being cut down in Sydney harbour):[20]

  • Fore
    • fore course 21.0 yd (19.2 m)
    • lower topsail 16.8 yd (15.4 m)
    • upper topsail 14.6 yd (13.4 m)
    • topgallant 11.5 yd (10.5 m)
    • royal 9.4 yd (8.6 m)
  • Main
    • main course 21.6 yd (19.8 m)
    • lower topsail 18.5 yd (16.9 m)
    • upper topsail 16.8 yd (15.4 m)
    • topgallant 14.2 yd (13.0 m)
    • royal 10.4 yd (9.5 m)
  • Mizzen

In popular culture

The name Cutty Sark:

  • is mentioned in the book The Great War for Civilisation: The Conquest of the Middle East.[21]. Journalist Robert Fisk's grandfather was a first-mate aboard the Cutty Sark and is mentioned in the book.
  • On Thursday 24 May 2007, Jonathan Ross revealed that he had missed the recent BAFTAs and failed to pick up his award because he was on a family trip to Cutty Sark. The comments were aired the next day as part of the Jonathan Ross show. A joke was also made as though it was Jonathan himself who burnt down the Cutty Sark. The following day, during an episode of Have I Got News for You, Paul Merton kept insisting that the Duke of Edinburgh had burnt down the ship, an allusion to the conspiracy theory that the duke was involved in the death of Diana, Princess of Wales. The much-publicised inquest into her death was approaching at this time.

See also


  1. ^ a b "LLOYD'S REGISTER, NAVIRES A VOILES". Plimsoll Ship Data. http://www.plimsollshipdata.org/pdffile.php?name=30a0082.pdf. Retrieved 13 March 2009. 
  2. ^ "cutty(-ie) sark, a short chemise or undergarment", Dictionary of the Scots Language, accessed 21 May 2007
  3. ^ Dean & Kemp, Oxford Companion to Ships and the Sea (Oxford U Press, 2005)
  4. ^ The Empire Ships. London, New York, Hamburg, Hong Kong: Lloyd's of London Press Ltd. 1995. pp. p49. ISBN 1-85044-275-4. 
  5. ^ BYM News, accessed 21 May 2007
  6. ^ a b BBC Radio 4 News, 6pm, 22 May 2007
  7. ^ Rebecca Camber, "The £13 doubt over Cutty Sark Sprinklers", Daily Mail, 23 May 2007
  8. ^ a b http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/london/6675381.stm BBC News Report on the Fire
  9. ^ http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2007/05/22/nsark22.xml Cutty Sark at The Daily Telegraph
  10. ^ Cutty Sark fire remains a mystery
  11. ^ http://news.sky.com/skynews/video/videoplayer/0,,30000-1266673,00.html Sky's Aerial Footage of the blaze site
  12. ^ Cutty Sark - Project 2005-2010 > Conservation Project Background
  13. ^ BYM News May Cutty Sark
  14. ^ Cutty Sark Cam
  15. ^ Cutty Sark - Press & Publicity > 23 Nov 07 Cutty Sark's Hollywood photo exhibition
  17. ^ Shipping billionaire makes £3.3m donation to restore fire-damaged Cutty Sark
  18. ^ [1]
  19. ^ James Watson, Blaze Guts Cutty Sark, Birmingham Mail, 21 May 2007, p. 5 (web version)
  20. ^ Sankey J, The Ship Cutty Sark
  21. ^ Fisk, Robert (2005). The Great War for Civilisation. New York: Vintage Books. pp. 195. ISBN 978-1-4000-7517-1. 

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