The Cutty Sark

The Cutty Sark. In previous drafts, the Admiral tells Josh to sail home after stopping in Fiji, in less than 3 months. Josh thinks about the Cutty Sark. She was perhaps the most famous of the “tea-clippers,” the fastest sailboats of the golden age of sailing and the last of the sail-powered merchant marine vessels, as steam-powered vessels replaced them. The Cutty Sark’s name is derived from a poem by Robert Burns called Tam o’ Shanter. Tam is being chased by a witch called Nannie. At the end of the poem, just before Tam reaches the bridge and safety, Nannie catches up to him and grabs his horse’s tail. But he’s mounted on a good horse and she carries her master across the bridge, leaving her tail behind. The ship’s figure-head is Nannie dressed in her favorite “cutty sark”, (cutty means short and a sark is a shift, a dress), and she’s still holding the horse’s tail in her left hand. On the stern of the ship is her motto “Where there’s a will, is a way.” With Nannie on your tail, you too would fly like the wind, and the ship was built to be the first home with the new season’s crop of tea.

The ships were called “clippers” because they raced each other to be home first and were constantly clipping time off the record runs. The Cutty Sark’s record for distance sailed in one day was 363 miles, for an average speed of a little more than 15 knots. Her record survived until late in the twentieth century. Today’s record is held by Maiden 2, a 110-foot catamaran, which sailed 697 miles in the North Atlantic on a day in June, 2002, at an average speed of just over 29 knots.

The Cutty Sark was at her best under Captain Richard Woodget, who had her from 1885 to 1895. His fastest run was from Sydney to the Lizard, near Pompey, in seventy-two days. He even overtook the P&O Steamer Brittania on the way. He was rounding the Cape of Storms once, the cape at the bottom of South Africa, near Cape Town, when he ran into a hurricane. He was breaking his own personal record at the time and saw this as an opportunity to do even better. His crew saw this as suicide; they wanted to go into Cape Town and sit out the storm. They threatened to mutiny, take to the lifeboats if he wouldn’t turn into port. He went below to his cabin and returned with a pistol and an axe, and while holding the twenty-eight of them at bay with the only gun on board, he chopped a hole in each of the lifeboats. When he had done, he laid the pistol and axe at their feet and walked off, muttering about his record. The crew of course needed him now more than ever and they went about their duty.

Sadly, in 2007, an arsonist set fire to the ship where she was standing in dry dock in Greenwich. She was undergoing a major restoration project and the trust who manage her have resolved to restore her despite the fire.

Here are a few photographs taken during a 2002 visit to the ship:

Stern, stbd midshipsStern logosLooking aft portMain mast looking upGalleyCrews Quarters

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