The Cutty Sark was built in 1869 and is known to be a clipper ship. She was the last clipper to serve as a merchant vessel and was then a training ship until she was put on public display in 1954. She is being saved in a drydock at Greenwich in London. However, she was damaged in a fire on May 21, 2007. She was undergoing extensive restoration and caught fire.
The name of the ship comes from a fictional character’s nickname Cutty Sark. The real name of the character was Nannie and she was in Robert Burns’ 1791 comic poem “Tam o’Shanter”. The character would wear cutty sark made out of linen that she received as a gift when she was a child. It was way too small for her. The other character, Tam, saw her in such a small undergarment and the erotic sight cause him to cry out “Weel done, Cutty-sark”, which eventually became a very well know idiom.
The history of the Cutty Sark is rich. Her designer was Hercules Linton and he built her in 1869 at Dumbarton, Scotland by the firm Scott & Linton. She was built for Captain John “Jock” “White Hat” Willis. Later, Scott & Linton was liquidated and she was instead launched by William Denny & Brothers on November 22, 1869.
Her destiny was to become a ship involved in the tea trade, which was at the time a very competitive and profitable trade. The first ship to arrive from China to London with the new tea would profit immensely. The Cutty Sark, however, did not distinguish herself in the race against Thermopylae in 1872. Both ships had left Shanghai on June 18th, but two weeks later Cutty Sark lost her udder when passing the Sunda Strait and ended up coming to London on October 18th, a whole week later than the Thermopylae. It is legendary though that the captain continued the race with an improvised rudder instead of pulling into a port for a replacement.
The clipper ships ended up losing out to steamships. The steamships could pass through the Suez Canal and delivered good better, even though they were not as quick. Businesses preferred better goods over timing. The Cutty Sark was then moved to work on the Australian wood trade. She was commanded by Captain Richard Woodget and did very well when she was able to sail from Australia to Britain in 67 days. Her fastest sail was 360 nautical miles and accomplished in 24 hours. This was the fastest run of any ship of her size.
In 1895, she was sold to a Portuguese firm called Ferreira and was given the same name as the company. In 1916, she lost her masts off the Cape of Good Hope, sold, re-rigged in Cape Town as a barquentine, and then renamed to Maria do Amparo. Six years later in 1922, Captain Wilfred Dowman bought her back and restored her to the original appearance and decided to use her as a stationary training ship. She was moved to a Drydock that was custom built in Greenwich in 1954. One can also see the name Cutty Sark and her preservation in the poem, of Hart Crane, called “The Bridge”. It was published in 1930. The Cutty Sark was made into a museum ship and is a very popular tourist attraction. She is located in south-east London next to the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich Park, and the former Greenwich Hospital. She is also a landmark on the route of the London Marathon.
The Cutty Sark is currently under care of the Cutty Sark Trust, that is run by the Duke of Edinburgh. He was dedicated to preserving her when he decided to create the Cutty Sark Society in 1951. The Trust then replaced the Society in the year 2000. She is currently a Grade I listed monument and is on the Buildings At Risk Register. The Docklands Light Railway also has a station named after her and it connection to central London and the London Underground. The Greenwich Pier is next to her.
The Cutty Sark caught fire while undergoing conservation work on May 21, 2007. She burned for a few hours before the London Rife Brigade could calm the fire down. The damage was extensive and most of the wooden structures had been lost. Richard Doughty gave an interview the next day stating that at least half of the timbers and artifacts had not been on site because they were removed for preservation. He also said that he was most worried about the state of the iron framework to which the timbers were attached. He was not sure how much the ship would cost to restore but said it would be between £5-10 million, which when added to the previous amount would make a total of £30-35 million. The cause of the fire was never confirmed. Analysis of the CCTV footage showed possible arson and that set off an investigation by Scotland Yard, but conclusive proof was never found.
Footage showed that the ship was very badly damaged, but that it was not completely destroyed. A fire officer said in a BBC interview that when the fire department arrived, there was “a well-developed fire throughout the ship”. The bow section though seemed undamaged and the stern also survived without too much damage. The fire seemed to occur and spread through the center of the ship and the chairman of Cutty Sark Enterprise reported that “The decks are unsalvageable but around 50% of the planking had already been removed; however, the damage is not as bad as originally expected.”
For a long time, the Cutty Sark Trust and its stance were widely criticized because they believed that the most important part was to preserve as much of the original fabric as possible. The damage from the fire allowed it so that the Cutty Sark could be rebuilt in a way that would allow her to once again go out to sea. The Cutty Sark Trust though found that less than 5% of the original fabric was lost in the fire because the decks that were destroyed were not original. Right now, there are two petitions for the UK Prime Minister. One is for funds to restore the ship and other is for funds to restore her into commission and make her a sail training vessel.
The design to renovate her is a project by Youmeheshe architects with Grimshaw architects and Buro Happold engineers. They want to raise her out of her dry moor by the use of a Kevlar web and allow visitors to go under the hull. Producer Jerry Bruckheimer has been an aid in the restoration of the Cutty Sark. He took photos of her and they went on display on November 2007 in London to help raise funds for the Cutty Sark Conservation Project. There were more than thirty pictures present at the exhibition that were taken during the filming of Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End.
The Cutty Sark was awarded another £10 million in January 2008 by the Heritage Lottery Fund towards her restoration. The Trust now had £30 million of the £35 million that they needed to complete her restoration. In June 2008, Sammy Ofer donated £3.3 million and that was all the money the Trust needed to complete the restoration.