Who’s who at Cutty Sark? Meet Explainer Volunteer Dai Hall!
This week we met up with Dai Hall, one of the Explainer Volunteers at Cutty Sark. Once a week, you’ll find him on the Main Deck, chatting to visitors and telling them all about the tumultuous history of the ship.
Dai: “What makes for a good explainer? I think you have to enjoy talking to people, that’s even more important than knowing about ships. Before retiring, I was a teacher at the University of Greenwich, and I really enjoy helping people understand new things. Some of the visitors know more than I do, so I find myself learning things every day as well.
I’m a sailor – or a yachty really – and I have my own boat. It’s funny; the question of why sailors enjoy sailing is actually one of the most difficult ones to answer. When the weather is terrible, we often joke: “they just don’t understand”. Because it can be hard to understand when you’re not out there on the open water yourself – but we just love it, rain or shine.”
Being an Explainer at Cutty Sark
“There are many reasons why I enjoy being an Explainer at Cutty Sark. The ship itself – and the Main Deck especially – is just such a wonderful and interesting place. My favourite part of the ship is the rig; with 11 miles of rope, it’s just fantastic. I’m also interested in the link between sailing and the English language. Many expressions come from sailing: ‘learning the ropes’ for example, or ‘money for old rope’. ”
The staff are very friendly, and take the time to get to know everyone, including the volunteers. When I visit Cutty Sark with my grandchildren everyone says hello. As a retired person it’s great to be part of an organisation again.
And last, but certainly not least, the visitors. It’s a real thrill to be talking to people all day, and find an audience of twenty people or more listening to you when it’s busy. We have visitors from all over the world. I’ve spoken to grandparents who don’t speak English very well, and have their grandchildren translate for them. We always find a way to understand each other.”
What do visitors ask our Explainers?
“The wheel is the easiest place to engage people in conversation. They ask about the steering, how the crew knew where they were, and what it was like on board. The answer is that life was hard. People often comment on how beautiful Cutty Sark is, but I help them to understand that, above all, she was built to be an efficient machine. She was built to make money after all. She just happens, to our eyes, to be beautiful.
Children often ask me if I’m the Captain, because of my beard, or they think I’m a pirate. Cutty Sark never really encountered pirates of course, so I try to discourage the latter. The best question I was ever asked was from a young boy, who wanted to know how sailors used to wipe their bottoms. A very good question indeed! Having discussed it with some of the other Explainers we decided that most likely, they used ‘oakum’ for this. The ropes used to be made of hemp, the fibres of which you could tear apart to make a fluff called oakum. This was hammered between the planks to make the ship water proof, but it was also a natural product to clean with.
People also often ask why a ship is usually talked about as a ‘she’. That’s an easy one – I tell people it’s because they have a mind of their own and they’re difficult to control!”
Join our team of Explainer Volunteers
Do you like people, ships and history, and would you like to spend time on this beautiful ship? Join our team of volunteers!
If you have any questions about this role, please phone Helen Webb on 020 8312 6543.