Happy Birthday, Cutty Sark


Today, November 22nd, it is 140 years since the Cutty Sark was launched.

The Cutty Sark was a clipper. Clippers were fast sailing ships, with square sails and multiple masts. They could not carry a particularly large cargo, but specialised in moving freight quickly, especially in transporting tea from China to Britain.

The Cutty Sark was launched in 1869 in Dambarton, Scotland. Initially, she ran the tea trade, but as steamships began to take that role over, she switched to transporting wool from Australia. She was the fastest ship on that route, posting a best time of only 72 days.

She then passed through a succession of owners, eventually being used as a training ship from 1922. She was displayed in 1951 in the Festival of Britain, and then was moved in 1954 to a dry dock in Greenwich. Since then, more than 16 million people have paid her a visit.

To walk inside the Cutty Sark is an amazing experience. As a child, I remember being taken to see her by my grandfather. I can still remember the smell of the wood, and the creaking of the planks. Her external appearance is graceful in the extreme, and it doesn’t take much imagination to think of her skipping through the waves at nearly 30 miles an hour.

Tragically, she was badly damaged by fire in 2007. It turned out however that only a small proportion of the original timbers had been destroyed by the fire, and restoration has been possible, at a cost of £35 million. She is due to re-open to visitors, having been extensively restored, in Spring 2011.

I can’t wait.