Monday, May 21, 2007

Cutty Sark Damaged in Fire

A spectacular fire early today heavily damaged the clipper ship Cutty Sark, a British merchant sailing vessel built for the lucrative nineteenth-century tea trade with China.

The ship, which is moored in drydock at Greenwich, had been closed to visitors since last year for a four-year, £26 million ($50 million) renovation.

In a bit of good news, Ian Bell, manager of the restoration project, emerged from an inspection of the ship with soot on his cheeks but an optimistic message about the condition of its iron frame.

"Initial indications suggest we don't have any massive distortions of the ship," Bell said. "It is not as bad as it could have been."

More than half of the ship's structure, including the three 100-foot (33-metre) masts and 250 teak planks, had already been removed as part of the restoration work. Much of the damage was to a temporary wooden roof installed to provide cover for the 65 carpenters, shipwrights, fabricators, and other conservationists currently working on the project.

"I think the most disturbing thing for me is the smell in the air," said Richard Doughty, chief executive of the Cutty Sark Trust. "Anyone who has been on the Cutty Sark knows it has a very distinctive smell from the timber, from the rope. Tragically, that smell now pervades southeast London."

The Cutty Sark left London on its maiden voyage on 16 February 1870, proceeding around Cape Hope to Shanghai a few months later. The ship made only eight voyages to China before its usefulness was usurped by faster ships powered by steam.

Measuring 280 feet in length, the ship weighed 979 tons and its main mast soared 152 feet above the main deck. It was used for training naval cadets during World War II; in 1951 it was moored in London for the Festival of Britain. Shortly afterward, the ship was acquired by the Cutty Sark Society.

Says The Guardian: "The Cutty Sark was the one of the most refined of all ships, the Concorde of her day, fast, delicate and elegant. Her curved lines showed she was not some salt-crusted carrier but a whippet of the seas, designed to race from China with tea. Never quite the fastest, or happiest of ships - beaten for speed by the Thermopylae, the greatest clipper of all - she was nonetheless the last to survive. The sight of her great masts and sharp bow jutting towards the Thames in Greenwich was a reminder that London was once a great port."

So raise a glass of Cutty Sark whisky this evening, then go online and make a donation toward this unique ship's restoration. That's what I'll be doing.

Shown here: Associated Press photo of the Cutty Sark on fire (top); The Cutty Sark by Frederick Tudgay, 1872 (bottom).


Anonymous said...

My late father built a model of a beautiful looking ship. As a master draughtsman, he used to also sketch these majestic ships using only hand/ eye skill. I looked at the model closely the other night and found out it was a replica of the clipper Thermopylae. Can you, or anyone, please send me some links or info on this clipper, esp. detailed sketches? many thanks

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