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Cutty Sark and the Suez Canal

On 17 November 1869  – five days before Cutty Sark’s launch – the Suez Canal opened, inaugurated in an elaborate ceremony attended by French Empress Eugénie, wife of Napoleon III. Connecting the Mediterranean and the Red seas, the canal was to have a dramatic effect on trade with the Far…

146th anniversary of Cutty Sark’s launch

On 22 November, Cutty Sark celebrates the 146th anniversary of her launch. Originally designed to last just 30 years, Cutty Sark has survived nearly five times her life expectancy thanks to her world-wide success, fame and beauty. Commissioned by Scottish shipowner John Willis, Cutty Sark was built in Dumbarton in 1869…

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…

Preserving Cutty Sark in Greenwich

In October 1952, the Cutty Sark Preservation Society was registered to preserve Cutty Sark in Greenwich as a memorial to the Merchant Navy as Victory had been preserved to commemorate Britain’s Navy in Portsmouth. Under the patronage of His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh and the leadership of Frank…

Sleeping on board Cutty Sark

When the ship was built in 1869, some of the crew slept in accommodation in the fo’c’s’le below the Main Deck. In this space, there were originally 10 bunks for the Ordinary and Able Seamen and although the bunks are no longer there, the portholes are in situ and it is still possible to see the stamp in the beam certifying the number of men who could be berthed there.

After the ship’s second voyage, however, this space was abandoned because it was too uncomfortable being right at the front of the ship, and it was difficult to get the men up on deck quickly. A new deckhouse was built on the Main Deck and in 1872, the petty officers and apprentices moved into the new, aft deckhouse and the Ordinary Seamen and Able Seamen then slept in the forward deckhouse. The fo’c’s’le was then probably used partly as a store and partly as an additional cargo space.

Crew cabin, Liverpool House, Cutty Sark  ©National Maritime Museum, Greenwich

Crew cabin, Liverpool House, Cutty Sark ©National Maritime Museum, Greenwich

The Master and two Mates had their accommodation at the stern of the ship, known as the Liverpool House. As might be expected, these cabins were relatively more luxurious and each officer had a separate cabin. The original specification for Cutty Sark details that these cabins were also “fitted up with drawers, chronometer case, chart racks, etc.”

Captain Moodie asleep ©National Maritime Museum, Greenwich

Captain Moodie asleep ©National Maritime Museum, Greenwich

Cutty Sark’s crew however did not get much time to spend in their cabins or sleep on board. Their day was dominated by the watch system which meant they had 4 hours at work then 4 hours off duty when they might be able to catch some sleep. Any sleep might be interrupted by stormy weather when all hands would be required on deck and the crew off watch were roused from their beds. Clarence Ray, apprentice on board 1894-5 writes in a letter to his mother “after a hard day’s work I slept like a top, you bet, but was fetched out of it in the middle to drop anchor in the Downs when the tug Shamrock left us”. He later reports “If we go to sleep in our watch on deck they make us ride the grey mare – that is sit up on the upper topsail yard for the rest of the watch. I have not had to do this yet but the other fellow has, twice.”

Later in the ship’s career when Cutty Sark had been sold to a Portuguese company and re-named Ferreira, the arrangement of the captain’s accommodation was relocated within the Liverpool House. A report on board in May 1913 states that the captain’s cabin was “was stripped of most of its old fittings, only a marble-topped washstand and a heavy, teak four-post bed remaining”.

Climbing the bunk beds at Cutty Sark today.  ©National Maritime Museum, Greenwich

Climbing the bunk beds at Cutty Sark today. ©National Maritime Museum, Greenwich

Today, the crew accommodation on board Cutty Sark is arranged as she would have appeared in 1872 and visitors are welcome to put themselves into the shoes of the crew and try out a bunk for size. Alternatively, why not join us on 31 October for our Halloween Sleepover

Cutty Sark Curator’s Tours

Once a month, Cutty Sark’s Curator leads a guided tour of the ship, her structure and spaces on board, covering the history of the vessel from the launch in 1869 to the recent 2006-2012 project to conserve Cutty Sark. Tours start with an examination of the original 1869 structure in…

Cutty Sark and the Thames

Cutty Sark was built in 1869 in Scott & Linton’s shipyard in Dumbarton on the banks of the river Leven, a tributary of the Clyde. On leaving the Clyde after her launch, she went on to journey up rivers across the world throughout her working life, but it was the…

Cutty Sark and the era of sail

Cutty Sark is one of the last remaining examples of an extreme clipper– a ship of elegant and beautiful design, with a refined hull shape, raked masts and a huge sail area. She represents the pinnacle of sailing ship design, carrying a remarkable amount of canvas for her size, nearly…

Life on board: the watch system

Life on board for the crew of Cutty Sark was dominated by the watch system. Everyone on board apart from the Master, Steward and the petty officers (carpenter, sailmaker, cook and bosun) were divided into two ‘watches’ – ‘port’ and ‘starboard’ watch. They would then alternate periods of duty, so…

Cutty Sark’s cargoes

We know Cutty Sark as a tea clipper but over her working career of 52 years she carried much else besides tea. The ship was built for the China tea trade and on the first three voyages she sailed directly to China, but after this she always sailed first to…