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Clipper Cutty Sark
ship model plans
History of the ship
On the afternoon of Monday, 22nd November 1869, a beautiful
little clipper ship of 963 tons gross was launched at
Dumbarton on the Scottish Clyde. On that day, she was
given a name that was to become renowned throughout the
seafaring world, and destined to win a place in the hearts
of British seamen ~ second only to Nelson's own immortal
HMS Victory ~ and that was Cutty Sark.
Cutty Sark was built for John 'Jock' Willis, a seasoned
sailing ship master who had 'swallowed the anchor' and
set up as a fleet owner in the port of London. Here he
became better known as "White Hat Willis" because
he always wore a white top hat.
His previous vessels had not had the performance results
he wanted and his ambition for Cutty Sark was for her
to be the fastest ship in the annual race to bring home
the first of the new season's tea from China.
The ship was designed by Hercules Linton, a partner in
the Dumbarton firm of Scott & Linton. His achievement
was to mould the bowlines of Willis's earlier vessel,
The Tweed into the midship attributes of Firth of Forth
fishing boats, creating a beautiful new hull shape that
was stronger, could take more sail, and be driven harder
than any other.
The company had never built a ship of this size before
and were keen to accommodate their client's every demand.
Unfortunately for them, Willis, being so canny a Scot
and wanting the best for the least, drove so hard a bargain
that the builders, together with their brilliant young
designer, sank without trace! The final details of the
fitting out had to be completed by another company ~ William
Denny & Brothers
Although her early years under her first master, Captain
George Moodie, saw some sterling performances, fate was
to thwart her owner's hopes of glory in the tea trade:
in the very same year of her launching, the Suez Canal
was opened, allowing steamers to reach the Far East via
the Mediterranean, a shorter and quicker route not accessible
to sailing ships, whose freights eventually fell so much
that the tea trade was no longer profitable. So Cutty
Sark's involvement in the China run was short lived, her
last cargo of tea being carried in 1877.
For the next several years, she was forced to seek cargos
where she could get them, and it was not until 1885 that
she began the second (and more illustrious) stage of her
The ship's heyday was in the Australian wool trade, which
was overseen by Captain Richard Woodget (pictured here
sporting a Tam O'Shanter), from 1885 to 1895. Here was
a virtuoso mariner who 'played' the Cutty Sark like the
responsive 'instrument' she was: He knew how to get the
last quarter-knot from the ship, and, during his time,
she repeatedly made the fastest passage home from Australia.
And yet by 1895, she was again no longer making money
for her owner and was unceremoniously sold off to the
Portuguese and renamed as Ferreira ~ although her crews
referred to her (significantly) as Camisola Pequenina
She laboured steadfastly for her new masters for almost
three more decades ~ regularly trading between Oporto,
Rio, New Orleans and Lisbon, in the service of Portugal's
Dismasted in a storm in the Indian Ocean in 1916, she
was re-rigged as a barquentine to carry less sail ~ a
decision necessitated by a wartime shortage of spar timber.
In 1920 she was sold again to another Portuguese company
being renamed Maria do Amparo in 1922.
She is pictured, above, in a sorry condition in 1922,
at which time she underwent a refit at London's Surrey
Docks. On her journey home from that refit, she was driven
into Falmouth Harbour by a fateful Channel gale.
This gale was 'fateful' because she was spotted there
by Captain Wilfred Dowman, a Cornish mariner who, as an
apprentice seaman back in 1894, had seen her 'slicing
by' at full sail and had never forgotten that breathtaking
She was now very much dilapidated, so Captain Dowman
made his move ~ he approached her Portuguese owners, bought
her for the sum of ?3,750 and had her restored, re-rigged
and flying the 'Red Duster' once again.
Upon Capt. Dowman's death in 1938, his widow presented
the newly restored clipper to the Incorporated Thames
Nautical Training College at Greenhithe on the Thames,
where the vessel remained until after the Second World
War, when the college acquired a larger, steel-built ship
for its cadets. Once more, Cutty Sark became 'surplus
Lengthy discussions ensued over her future, which ultimately
led to her being towed to a mooring off Greenwich in 1951
for the festival of Britain. Eventually, the Cutty Sark
Society was formed by HRH The Duke of Edinburgh and the
ship was gifted to the society. In December 1954 she was
moved into a specially constructed dry dock at Greenwich.
Since her official opening in 1957 by HM The Queen, Cutty
Sark has been visited by over 15 million people from all
over the world.
Now, 134 years after her launch (long since outliving
her life expectancy of just 30 years), she is still a
beautiful vessel, delighting her visitors. Take a tour
of her decks and find out about the urgent need for restoration
to save the world's sole surviving tea clipper for future