There’s a certain type of poetry when beautiful form matches excellent performance, and it becomes even more special when it’s wrapped up in an engineering feat of teak over an iron frame and miles of rigging. The Cutty Sark was designed to be fast, and to carry tea. And to see it now there’s an echo of the romance of a bygone age.
Although the clipper didn’t manage to take the record for bringing back tea from China (despite being 400 miles in the lead, it was scuppered – at the risk of mixing nautical metaphors – by a broken rudder). But it did break the record for transporting wool from Australia, and held it for 10 years.
As a clipper the Cutty Sark was one of the last of its kind. Clippers were designed to make use of the strong winds around the African coast. But within the blink of an eye of the Cutty Sark being launched, the Suez Canal was opened, allowing steamships a short cut to the tea regions.
There’s romance in the name too, taken as it was from the Robert Burns poem Tam O’Shanter (him of the hat). Cutty Sark was the nickname of the fearsome witch Nannie Dee, who Tam saw dancing in her short skirt to the sound of the devil playing a violin. Later it was she who nearly caught Tam, but had to content herself with just pulling off the tail of the horse he was riding. Thrilling stuff!
At the end of its long and eventful career, the Cutty Sark was turned into a museum ship at Greenwich. And it’s a place where you can touch history.
It’s an immersive experience, where you can stand by the wheel, imagine you’re steering a course from Australia, climb in the bunks and sit at the captain’s table.
Watch the film to see all there is to explore, and click through to find out how you can get on board the Cutty Sark.
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