Cutty Sark

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Cutty Sark

The British clipper ship Cutty Sark was one of the last, and one of the fastest, tea clippers to be built. Cutty Sark was built for the Jock Willis Shipping Line and spent time transporting tea before switching to the wool trade, transporting wool from Australia. For ten years Cutty Sark held the record as the fastest clipper between Australia and England. With greatly improved steam technology being used on steamships, and the opening of the Suez Canal, steamships began to dominate the route to Australia resulting in the sale of Cutty Sark to the Portuguese company J. Ferreira and Co, where she was renamed ‘Ferreira’. In 1922 She was sold to another Portuguese company, Companhia Nacional de Navegacao, where she was renamed Maria do Amparo before being sold to a retired English sea captain, Wilfred Dowman. Cutty Sark was employed as a training ship by Dowman who operated her out of Falmouth, Cornwall. Cutty Sark was later taken over by the Thames Nautical Training College at Greenhithe where she was used as an auxiliary cadet training ship until she was handed over to the Cutty Sark Preservation Society. She was restored in a custom built dry dock in Greenwich where she remains on display as a museum ship.

Why was Cutty Sark Built?
Cutty Sark was built to order for shipping tycoon John Willis. He wanted a fast ship to compete with the clipper Thermopylae which had been built in Aberdeen and had set a record time for sailing from London to Melbourne.

Who Designed Cutty Sark?
Willis chose Scottish designer and shipbuilder Hercules Linton to design and build Cutty Sark. The inspiration for the bow shape appears to have come from another of his ships, The Tweed, which he’d taken Linton to see in dry dock. The Tweed had been built in Bombay Dockyard and Willis believed that her performance was exceptional.

Where and When was Cutty Sark Built?
Cutty Sark was built at a shipyard on the River Leven in Dumbarton, Scotland. The contract for the construction of Cutty Sark was won by the shipbuilders Scott & Linton in February 1869 with construction to be completed, to Lloyd’s A1 standard, within six months. Captain George Moodie, who was to be Cutty Sark’s first captain, supervised the build on behalf of Willis. A requirement, by the Lloyd’s inspectors, for additional strengthening led to delays in the build and work was halted when Scott & Linton ran out of money. The shipbuilders William Denny & Brothers completed Cutty Sark after the contract was taken over from Scott & Linton by agreement.

When was Cutty Sark Launched?
Cutty Sark was launched, by Captain Moodie’s wife, on November 22, 1869. Cutty Sark was then taken to Denny’s yard where her masts were added, and later to Greenock to be fitted with her rigging.

Where did Cutty Sark Get Her Name?
The name Cutty Sark came from the Robert Burns poem Tam O’Shanter. A character in the poem, a witch called Nannie, is given the nickname Cutty-sark as she is wearing a shirt that is too small for her. Cutty-sark is 18th Century Scots for short shirt. The figurehead of Cutty Sark is the witch Nannie holding the tail of Tam o’Shanter’s horse which she managed to grab while chasing him.

How Big is Cutty Sark?
Cutty Sark has an overall length of 280ft, a beam of 36ft, a draught of 22ft 6ins and displaces 2,100 tons of water. Her mainmast is 146ft, her foremast 130ft and her mizzenmast 109ft. She had 32,000 sq ft of sail which propelled her to a maximum speed of 17.5 knots. She held a complement of between 28 and 35 crew. Her Gross Registered Tonnage was 963. She had been constructed using three different types of wood, English Oak, American Rock Elm and East India Teak.

The First Tea Voyage of Cutty Sark
Cutty Sark was brought to London in January 1870 to load cargo for her first voyage. On February 16, 1870, Cutty Sark left London, heading for Shanghai, loaded with beer, spirits and wine. After many issues and accidents with the rigging, Cutty Sark arrived in Shanghai 104 days later. Cutty Sark was loaded with tea and her return journey began on June 25, 1870. She arrived in London 110 days later on October 13, completing the first of eight tea voyages, from China, that Cutty Sark would undertake.

Cutty Sark Races Thermopylae
In 1872 Cutty Sark came into direct competition with a rival clipper, Thermopylae. They left Shanghai, China, on the same tide and headed for London remaining close to each other while they sailed down the China Sea. Having built up a lead of 400 nautical miles over Thermopylae, Cutty Sark lost her rudder in a heavy gale. Thermopylae went on to win the race while Cutty Sark was fitted with a new rudder that had been made from spare timber by the ship’s carpenter Henry Henderson.

Cutty Sark’s Captain Resigns
Robert Willis, the brother of the owner, was aboard the Cutty Sark while it raced Thermopylae, and when the rudder was lost he insisted that Captain Moodie take Cutty Sark to the nearest port. A fierce argument ensued with Moodie refusing to make port and Willis remaining critical of him. Despite Moodie’s seamanship in dealing with these problems being praised by the shipping community, he resigned in protest.

Cutty Sark Sets a Record
Captain F.W. Moore was given command of Cutty Sark and completed one round trip to Shanghai before being replaced by Captain W.E. Tiptaft. In November 1875, Cutty Sark left London for Sydney where she arrived in a record 73 days, having recorded speeds of 17 knots.

Cutty Sark’s Last Cargo of Tea
Cutty Sark took on her final cargo of tea at Hankow, China, in 1877. By this time clippers were finding it increasingly difficult to compete with steamers for the tea trade, and despite returning to Shanghai again, Cutty Sark was unable to load any more tea.

Cutty Sark Runs Aground
In November 1877, while sheltering from a storm, Cutty Sark was anchored with several other ships off the east coast of Kent. Her anchor failed and she was blown through the other ships, damaging two before running aground on the Goodwin Sands. She was towed off by two tugs and went to London for repairs.

Cutty Sark’s First Cargo of Wool
In December 1877, Cutty Sark left London for Sydney where she took on coal for Shanghai. On arrival at Shanghai there was no tea to bring back to London. Captain Tiptaft died while there and was replaced by the First Mate, James Wallace, who took the ship back to Australia. While there Cutty Sark received her first cargo of wool and headed for New York.

Cutty Sark Turns to Tramping
At this point Cutty Sark turned to ocean tramping; the practice of finding cargo wherever she could around the world. The owner, John Willis, altered the sail plan so that he could reduce the complement of crew in an effort to economize. In 1880 Cutty Sark took on coal at Penarth and headed for China.

Murder aboard Cutty Sark
While in the Indian Ocean, on route to China, the First Mate Sidney Smith hit Seaman John Francis with a capstan handle. The blow, which he received for failing to respond to an order, killed him. Captain Wallace allowed Smith to leave the ship at Java which led to a mutiny. To make matters worse, Cutty Sark became becalmed in the Java Sea for three days. With the unrest and the becalming, the strain became too much for Wallace and he committed suicide by jumping overboard.

Cutty Sark Enters the Wool Trade
Wallace was replaced by William Bruce who was suspended following an inquiry in New York, and Captain F.W. Moore took command once again. Cutty Sark left Newcastle, New South Wales, for London in December 1883, with a cargo of wool and tallow. She arrived in London in 83 days, which was 25 days faster than any other ship that year.

Cutty Sark Under Captain Woodget
Cutty Sark remained a wool clipper until 1895 and Captain Woodget, who took command in 1885, proved to be her most exceptional master. His first voyage to Australia, in 1885, established Cutty Sark as the fastest of the Australia wool clippers when she returned from Australia in 73 days, beating Thermopylae by 7 days. In 1889, Cutty Sark was the subject of an entry in the log of the British Liner SS Britannia, which stated that she was overtaken, while steaming at 15-16 knots, by a sailing ship (Cutty Sark) travelling at 17 knots.

Cutty Sark Flies the Portuguese Flag
With steamships now dominating the wool trade, it became unprofitable to use Cutty Sark in that role so, in 1895, John Willis sold her to the Portuguese company J. Ferreira and Co., and her name was changed from Cutty Sark to Ferreira. She returned to tramping and sailed to destinations such as Angola, the Cape Verde Islands, Mozambique, New Orleans, Rio and England.

Re-rigging of Cutty Sark
Cutty Sark had always been a ship rigged vessel, however she lost her mast during bad weather off the Cape of Good Hope in May 1916. With WW1 under way it was difficult to obtain materials to carry out the necessary repairs so she was re-rigged as a barquentine with her mizzen and main masts becoming aft and fore rig.

Cutty Sark Becomes the Last Operational Clipper
By 1922, Ferreira (Cutty Sark) had become the only clipper in the world to still be operating. After being caught in a storm in the English Channel she was towed into Falmouth where she was recognised as the Cutty Sark by retired Captain Wilfred Dowman, who was operating Lady of Avenel as a training ship.

Cutty Sark Returns to England
Dowman resolved to buy her, however she returned to Lisbon where she was sold to another Portuguese company and renamed Maria di Amparo. Despite this, Dowman continued to pursue the ship and eventually bought her. He returned her to Falmouth where he gave her back her original name Cutty Sark and had her re-rigged to as near her original arrangement as possible. He then used her as a ship for training cadets and as a museum ship.

Cutty Sark Sails for the Final Time
Dowman had wanted to return Cutty Sark to seaworthy condition, but following his death in 1936, his widow donated Cutty Sark to the Thames Nautical Training College at Greenhithe. In 1938, crewed by cadets, Cutty Sark journeyed under sail, for the final time, mooring in the River Thames at Greenhithe, where she began her time as an auxiliary training vessel alongside HMS Worcester.

The Cutty Sark Preservation Society
In 1949 it was decided that Cutty Sark was no longer required, and in 1951 she was moved to Greenwich for the 1951 Festival of Britain. Following interest by the National Maritime Museum and London County Council, the Cutty Sark Preservation Society was formed under the patronage of Prince Philip the Duke of Edinburgh. On May 28, 1953, the Thames Nautical Training College donated Cutty Sark to the Cutty Sark Preservation Society.

The Restoration of Cutty Sark
Restoration work was begun on Cutty Sark while she was in the East India Docks, however she was moved to a custom built dry dock at Greenwich where the Duke of Edinburgh had laid the foundation stone. Once in the dock, it was sealed and the river wall was rebuilt. Restoration continued and on June 25, 1957, Queen Elizabeth II, accompanied by Prince Philip the Duke of Edinburgh, opened Cutty Sark to the public.

Cutty Sark Damaged by Fire
By 1998 Cutty Sark was in need of major conservation work and a £25m project began in November 2006. Cutty Sark was closed to the public and dismantling began. Disaster struck on May 21, 2007, when Cutty Sark caught fire and burned for several hours before the London Fire Brigade brought it under control. The fire resulted in an additional conservation cost of £10m and a delay of one year. Following an investigation it was concluded that an industrial vacuum cleaner that had been left on over the weekend may have caused the fire.

Cutty Sark Restoration Completed
The restoration was completed by April 2012 when Cutty Sark was re-opened to the public. A second fire occurred, on deck three, on the morning of October 19, 2014. A small part of the deck and hull timbers were damaged but Cutty Sark was reopened to the public not long afterwards.

Class and Type: Clipper - Complement: 28 to 35 Crew
2,100 tons - Length: 280ft overall - Beam: 36ft - Draught: 22ft 6ins
32,000 sq ft sail - Masts: mainmast 146ft, foremast 130ft, mizzenmast 109ft - Speed: 17.5 knots

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Published 2018

Global Anchor Limited

Modified 2018

By James Drake

Characteristics - Information - Guide - Pictures - Images - Facts and Information - Cargo - Tea - Wool - Sails - Masts - Figurehead