The world’s last intact tea clipper trading ship, the Cutty Sark epitomized the tailend of the age of sail, built to negotiate cross-continent trading routes with great speed!
The Cutty Sark was an English clipper-class ship used predominantly to transport tea from China to England. It was built for speed, with a narrow hull, a wide, forward-raked bow and a square rig on a three-mast setup. These factors enabled the ship to cut through rough waves with greater efficiency than pre-existing trading vessels, allowing produce such as tea, cocoa, coal and wool to be rapidly transported cross continent for expedited delivery (for the time). In fact, the high speeds attainable by clipper-class ships led to the formation of the ‘Race of the Tea Clippers’, an annual event where various crews battled it out to bring in the first tea shipment of the year.
The Cutty Sark was – and still is today – a prime example of the tea clipper. With planking, deadwoods, stem and sternpost made from American rock elm, a bespoke iron frame, a deck made from teak and solid brass bolting throughout, the ship was one of the most expensive and advanced clippers at sea. This build quality was ensured by its shipbuilder’s determination to outsail the other great clipper of the age the Thermopylae, something that it would proceed to do no less than five times during its career.
Luckily, despite the ship falling into poor condition, numerous refits and restorations mean that today its condition remains unchallenged worldwide.
Unfortunately, as with many tools and technologies, the age of the Cutty Sark/clipper was not to last. The invention of the steam engine had led to increasing mechanization throughout the Industrial Revolution and by the late-i9th Century steam-powered ships were becoming financially viable to the mass-market. This, in partnership with the opening of the Suez Canal – which created a shortcut between Europe and Asia not traversable by sail-powered ships – caused clippers to be slowly phased out. As such the Cutty Sark was sold in 1895 and re-rigged in Cape Town, South Africa, returning to England in the Twenties to serve as a training ship.
Where is Cutty Sark ship? – Today the Cutty Sark is preserved in a dry dock in Greenwich, London, where it is viewable to the public as a maritime museum piece.
Facts about Cutty Sark
Shirty – The Cutty Sark’s name translates as ‘short shirt’ in modern English. The name was taken from the famous poem by Scottish poet Robert Burns, Tarn o’ Shanter.
Wool – In the early-20th Century the Cutty Sark was bought and redesigned to act as a ship to transport wool. As such, its homeport was switched from London to Lisbon, Portugal.
Dry – In the early-Fifties the Cutty Sark had fallen into disrepair through lack of maintenance. But in 1957 it was restored and positioned in a dry berth near Greenwich, London.
Fire – In 2007 the Cutty Sark was set alight by vandals, leaving it with extensive damage. Luckily, much of the vessel had been dismantled for restoration. The ship reopened in April 2012.