Cutty Sark’s original structure
One of the unique aspects of Cutty Sark is the vast amount of the ship’s original structure which survives to today. Visitors have the opportunity to get up close and interact with the very structure that sailed the South China Seas and rounded Cape Horn.
As a working vessel, the ship would of course have sustained damage during the long voyages to China and later Australia. The ship’s petty officers were responsible for the maintenance of the ship – the Bos’un, the Carpenter and Sailmaker – but a regular part of all the crew’s work was to repair and paint the ship. Cutty Sark’s crew would have had stores of supplies on board to enable them to carry out running repairs of the vessel including spare yards, canvas, timber, paint as well as tools to caulk the deck to render it watertight, carpentry tools and sailmaker’s equipment.
Apprentice Clarence Ray wrote in 1894 “One time we were lashed on the Poop for a day and 2 nights when daylight came the 2nd day she looked a perfect wreck on deck, the cabin was washed out, our cuddy door was burst open (we saw this in the night, but no one dare go on the main deck to shut it) all the lower bunks were washed out… Soon after this sea carried our fore t’gallant and royal mast away, the royal yard went overboard, the t’gallant was hanging in the rigging, the upper topsail yard was broke in two about 18 feet from the yard arm. I was up aloft all that night with the men clearing the wreck, and I was jolly glad when day dawned and the wind lulled a bit.”
On reaching port, the ship would undergo general repair works in preparation for her next journey. On occasion the ship’s hull would also be re-sheathed and the captain could expect the vessel to pass even more quickly through the water once re-coppered.
More serious incidents beset Cutty Sark during her working life as a cargo carrier including losing her rudder at least twice, several times losing her anchors, collisions with other vessels while in port and most notably when the ship was dismasted in 1916 and so was subsequently rigged with the reduced rig of a barquentine.
However, all the original iron framework exists today including the beams, frames and cross-bracing that define her refined hull shape and support Cutty Sark’s decks. 90% of the wooden hull planks are original as well as her timber keel and false keel and other original structure dating from her launch include the steering gear, capstan and bilge pumps.
The priority of the 2006-2012 conservation project was to preserve Cutty Sark’s original structure to ensure the ship’s continued survival for at least another 50 years. Today, we have full-time team of shipkeepers, shipkeeping volunteers and our team of riggers who continue to look after and preserve the last remaining tea clipper Cutty Sark.