Who’s who at Cutty Sark? Meet rigger Andy!

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Who’s who at Cutty Sark? Meet rigger Andy!

During the 2006-2012 conservation project, rigging company TS Rigging was brought in to help restore Cutty Sark’s masts and spars. As part of the ambitious project, they were also responsible for the refurbishment of all standing rigging, which supports the masts, and the replacement of all running rigging, which controls the sails, as well as the installation of the entire rig back onto the ship. Andy Hodder Smith was there from the start and has supported the Cutty Sark team in looking after the rigging ever since.

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Andy: “We started resorting the rigging in July 2011 and worked with a group of twelve to fifteen people, every day until the ship re-opened in April 2012. The masts and metal yards were all water-blasted back to bare material, before being repainted to the required specification. The wires were catalogued, stripped, inspected and recoated, and the deadeyes and blocks were sanded back and treated with preservation oil. This restoration process took from July to November after which we began the major task of putting all of the masts, spars and rigging back on the ship in time for the Queen to re-open her on 25th April 2012.”

Sanded blocks and deadeyes

Sanded blocks and deadeyes

Different from most other museum ships is the fact that all the ropes were installed. It is the 8 miles of rope and 3 miles of wire and chain that help make Cutty Sark’s rigging so spectacular. “She might be static, but in terms of rigging all she needs is some sails and she’s ready to go sailing!”

Today, TS Rigging has a regular team people looking after Cutty Sark’s rigging. “Every ship needs ongoing maintenance, whether it’s a sailing ship or a static visitor attraction. We paint and oil everything aloft, mainly to keep the water out and keep things from rusting. Working ships usually go into dry dock and have bits of rigging taken out and replaced every five to ten years. Cutty Sark is out there in the London weather and pollution every day, which makes for some pretty tough conditions. That’s why we put a lot of time and effort in looking after her so we can keep her preserved for future generations.”

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When asked how to become a rigger, Andy laughs. “Luck!” he says, before explaining TS Rigging mostly hire tall ship sailors; people who really understand the rig and the ship and know how to work aloft safely. “We look after Cutty Sark in the same way we would a working Tall Ship; using traditional materials and methods, but using modern day safety equipment.”

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Working at Cutty Sark isn’t exactly the same as working on most Tall Ships though. “Most vessels either come to our workshop at Downs Road Boatyard for work, or we live on board for a week or so while the work is being done. Cutty Sark is one of the few ships we would make a 3-4 hours return journey to each day! Also, at Cutty Sark we have to work safely around the visitors, and make sure they can flow around the ship without any problems. It’s nice to be able to interact with the people who come on board and help answer their questions. Some people might say we must be crazy to work up in the rigging, but if you like heights, it’s a fantastic job. The sunsets from up on the rigging, with the red skies over London sites such as St Pauls Cathedral, Tower Bridge and the London Eye, are truly spectacular.”

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