This blogpost I am doing with hindsight, seeing as I actually visited the ship in April 2013. Cutty Sark is really one of those old clipper ships that most people actually know, and is probably one of the most famous of all the preserved sailing ships out there. She is also a sight to behold, not only because of her age and fame, but because she is really beautiful.
I am not going to explain her history, there are others more qualified than I am, but I do want to add the proviso in that my visit to her in Greenwich is taken after her restoration following the disastrous fire that engulfed her on 21 May 2007. I do not know how she looked before that event. The restoration work has drawn a lot of criticism, and I have to admit I am not too keen on one aspect of it myself; but more about that later. It is also worthwhile looking at the Royal Museum Greenwich website for more about the ship and her surroundings
The vessel is berthed close the the famous Greenwhich Maritime Museum, and I arrived there fresh from Lewisham, which is probably the wrong way to arrive at this auspicious place. Theoretically I should have arrived here by steam pinnace, but no such luck I am afraid. It is easy to find the ship, just look for the masts.
The ship is really in 3 different parts: The deck exterior and rigging, the interior (below decks), and then the underside. On board she is really beautiful, and I wonder whether this is any reflection of her as she looked when she was a working ship? These clippers were hard ships, they were fast, demanding on their crews and required really skilled officers to sail them safely. They were not the glamorous vessels people make them out to be, you had to be tough to be a crewman on a clipper, this was not a cruise ship.
The decks are reasonably spacious although making head or tail out of the many ropes and rigging bits would be a major undertaking. Suffice to say that the crew knew what they were doing, or else she would not have been the record breaker that she was.
Below decks is quite a revelation too. The ship was a carrier of cargo, so every inch is space available was dedicated to it. I believe that the rigging was slacked while loading occurred due to the weight of the cargo, and only once loading was completed would they take in the slack.
Internal construction. Probably close to the bow.
I did not get many images of her interior, the cramped spaces really make it very difficult to get far away enough for pics.
Having looked through the interior I headed outside to catch the lift that would take me down to the inside of the “goldfish bowl” that encircles the vessel. The ship is suspended inside this bowl, it is kind of hard to explain, rather look at the images.
It is only now that you can get some sort of idea of how big she really is. Ships are very deceptive things, they feel really big until you are out at sea, and seem quite small until you view them from outside or, in this case: from underneath.
This is the area that most people seem to have a problem with. Unlike the SS Great Britain
which rests on keel blocks, Cutty Sark seemingly floats above the floor of the drydock, propped up by supports that are slightly below her waterline. Her bottom is sheathed in copper, or is it brass? It really does look odd, and I must admit I was very sceptical about it. However, there must be some sort of reasoning behind what they did, and frankly it it prevents her from being broken up then so be it. The fact remains though, she is really quite breathtaking from down here.
I have walked under a few ships before, and I never really tire of the experience, there is just something about it that really amazes me, and some of the fine lines of this ship are best appreciated from the floor of the drydock.
Then it was time for me to leave and I bid this old lady from another age farewell, and I hoped that one day I would return to see her again.
Of course the one question people ask me: Did she ever come to South Africa? To the best of my knowledge she did.
DRW. © 2014-2020. Created 18/12/2014 images recreated 26/03/2016.