The Cutty Sark
The Cutty Sark was once the most famous of the great tea clippers. In the 1870s she sped across the high seas bringing the new tea crop from China. Amongst the tearooms and parlours of Victorian Britain, there was great prestige in offering the first batch of the new tea harvest. So the clippers raced each other back to London, with the first tea cargo to arrive fetching the highest prices. The Cutty Sark’s speed therefore, translated directly into profit for her owners. Cutty Sark was built in a Scottish shipyard, and launched in Dumbarton in 1869. Her composite hull of timber and iron was sleek and strong. Her three masts could hold a spread of canvas that propelled the ship at over 17 knots. But when Cutty Sark was launched, it was already the Indian summer of the great sailing ships. The Suez Canal opened the same year, offering steamships a shorter route to the Far East. The increasing speed and cargo capacity of steamships would soon render sailing ships unprofitable. After her heyday, bringing tea from China and then wool from Australia (on which route she set several records) the Cutty Sark was bought by a Portuguese company, and later used as a training ship by British naval cadets. In 1953, rescued from obscurity by her admirers, she was placed in dry dock in Greenwich. There she serves as a unique example of breathtaking ship design, and as a symbol of Britain’s proud maritime heritage. She also became the memorial to the Merchant Navy, and its losses in two world wars. Now, the same timbers that were once pounded by the storms of the Cape Horn are once more under threat. Years of exposure to the elements have taken their toll. Her wooden hull is waterlogged and rotting. The iron frame that supports them is rusting, and if the process is not reversed, it is estimated the ship will have to be closed as a dangerous structure in 2007. The Cutty Sark Trust aims to ensure the ship’s survival into the next century by launching an ambitious restoration project. Keeping as much of the original material as possible, the ship’s hull will be repaired and strengthened. The main deck, which currently leaks rainwater, will be re-laid in teak. Corroded rivets and rusting ironwork will be replaced. The visitor’s experience will be transformed by a new exhibition space and improved access.