We include 'Tall Ships', a term coined relatively
recently for the last of the commercial sailing ships and recently built
(in the last few decades) private ships, in the yachts section because they are closer,
in our opinion, to the world of yachting than the world of shipping in
all but size. In fact this choice is partly based on the fact that in
recent Tall Ships races yachts as small 12 metres were to be seen
One of the most famous of all the Tall Ships is the
only surviving British Tea Clipper, the 'Cutty Sark', preserved as a
museum ship at Greenwich, London, UK, as an example of the great days of
Launched in Dumbarton, Scotland, in November 1869, built for Captain
Jock Willis, son of 'Old Stormy' Willis, who figured in the sea shanty 'Stormalong',
the 'Cutty Sark' was designed to present a challenge to the great
British clipper 'Thermopylae' and was almost exactly the same size.
212' long and with a beam (width at the widest point)
of 36', she drew 21' (the depth of a vessel below the waterline is
referred to as her 'draught' and she is said to 'draw' that depth).
The 'Cutty Sark' was designed by Hercules Linton, and building was begun
by the firm of Linton and Scott but, unfortunately, the company was
forced into liquidation as mounting costs overtook the price they
had quoted for her completion. The firm of William Denny and
Brothers then took up the work of finishing her construction.
In 1870, a year after her launching, the 'Cutty Sark'
competed in the annual Tea Race from China to London. The clipper trade
was, however, already being seriously undermined by steam ships, able to
use the shorter route created by the opening of the Suez Canal. She made
eight voyages as a tea trader but never managed to match the speed of
the earlier clippers. Her best performance was achieved in 1871 when she
sailed from Shanghai to the North Foreland in 107 days.
The 'Cutty Sark' and the 'Thermopylae' only ever raced one another
homeward once and, unfortunately, on that occasion, after having gained
a four-hundred mile lead, the 'Cutty Sark's rudder was lost in bad
Having been ousted from the tea trade by the faster
steam ships, clippers were obliged to look for cargoes anywhere they
might be found and the 'Cutty Sark' landed a contract to move wool from
Australia in 1883 and managed some outstanding passages including one
from Sydney to the South of England in 1885, arriving only 73 days after
departing Australia, under the captaincy of Richard Woodgett, a
square-rig man to the core. He remained in charge of her right through
her wool-carrying career which ended in late 1894 or early 1895.
When she returned to London at the end of her last
wool run, the 'Cutty Sark' was sold to the Portuguese. Remaining under
the Portuguese flag for the next 27 years, during many of which she was
re-rigged as a barquentine, after a refit in London, in 1922, she was
returning to Lisbon when a severe gale forced her into Falmouth Harbour
in Cornwall, on the South coast of England.
Captain Wilfred Downman, who happened to be in the area, fell in love
with the ship and bought her there and then. He restored and re-rigged
the 'Cutty Sark' to her original configuration and, when he died in
1936, his widow made a gift of her to the Thames Nautical Training
She was towed to Greenhithe on the river Thames and used as a boys'
Thirteen years, and one world war, later, in 1949, the
'Cutty Sark' was no longer needed for this purpose and was offered to
the National Maritime Museum at Greenwich, which was not in a position
to accept her at that time.
Under the untiring efforts of a gentleman by the name of Frank
Carr, and with public funds made available by the London County
Council, a scheme for her permanent preservation was sponsored in a
purpose-built dock at Greenwich from 1954 onwards.
After three years of hull restoration and re-rigging
work had been completed, the 'Cutty Sark' was opened to the public. The
name comes from Robert Burns' poem 'Tam O' Shanter' which describes a
Scottish farmer chased by a young witch 'Nannie':
..."Her cutty sark, o' Paisley harn
that, while a lassie, she had worn
in longitude though sorely scanty
it was her best and she was vaunty"...
The figurehead of the 'Cutty Sark' represents 'Nannie'
in her 'cutty sark' (short skirt) with her left arm outflung to catch
the tail of the farmer's grey mare on which he was attempting to escape
Are you a tall ship enthusiast?
Do you own or sail a tall ship?
We'd love to hear all about it.
How did you come to be sailing on tall ships?
We'd love to hear your story and that of any tall ship you know.
If you've ever been involved with tall ships, tell us your stories.
If you have any funny or tragic stories, tell us those too. Your photographs
will be very welcome if you care to e-mail us any.
Have you raced on tall ships or had a hand in the restoration of one, or more?
Don't worry about your writing skills, we can help with the editing if needed.
We're looking forward to hearing from you.