The Cutty Sark is a fully restored clipper ship resting in dry dock in the borough of Greenwich, an area with a rich maritime history located to the southeast of greater London. In its time, the Cutty Sark was famous for its speed, while today the vessel stands as one of the world’s only remaining clipper ships dating to the nineteenth century. It’s open for tours seven days a week between the hours of 10:00am and 5:00pm.
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History of the Cutty Sark
The Cutty Sark was designed by the acclaimed Scottish shipbuilder Hercules Linton at the request of merchant John “Jock” Willis. Willis was in the market for a state-of-the-art ship that could make speedy trips between London and China, returning with a cargo full of tea. The Cutty Sark embarked on its maiden voyage in February 1870, sailing for Shanghai with an assortment of liquors and manufactured goods. It arrived in China some three-and-a-half months later, spent three weeks in port, and was back in England by October with 1.3 million pounds of tea aboard.
The ship would carry cargo all over the world for the next half-century, before being retired in 1922. From that point in time until the 1950s, the Cutty Sark served as a training ship for the Royal Navy and Merchant Marines. In 1954, the Cutty Sark was placed in dry dock in Greenwich and a meticulous restoration was undertaken. In a ceremony attended by the Queen, the Cutty Sark was opened to the public in 1957. The ship takes its name from the legendary poet Robert Burns’ long narrative poem entitled “Tam O’Shanter.” In that work, “cutty sark” is a term for a short skirt worn by one of the characters.
Cutty Sark Highlights
A visit to the Cutty Sark is like taking a trip back in time, as throughout the entire vessel you’ll encounter numerous historic details sure to delight nautical buffs and sea-faring novices alike. The Cutty Sark’s steering mechanism—which was quite technologically advanced in its day—is original to the ship, and the centerpiece of this system is the steering wheel. A beautiful wooden creation, the Cutty Sark’s wheel has been restored and is a wonderful place for a unique photo opportunity. After all, how often does one get to helm the wheel of a world-famous ship?
Walking the main deck of the Cutty Sark is another major highlight here. The ship’s extensive riggings are something else to behold in person (so much so, in fact, that visitors may purchase a special ticket to climb the rigging themselves), and a stroll down the main deck lets one imagine what life must have been like as a member of the Cutty Sark’s crew some 150 years ago.
As you find yourself discovering all the Cutty Sark has to offer, you won’t want to miss the ship’s ornate figurehead, “Nannie.” A modern recreation of the ship’s original figurehead, this contemporary replica depicts the cutty sark-wearing witch who chases after the title character in Robert Burns’ poem. You’ll also want to be sure and take some time to walk around the hull of the Cutty Sark. Cutting-edge in its day, this copper hull was responsible for a great deal of the Cutty Sark’s famous speed, and can be viewed almost in full on account of the ship nowadays being drydocked.
More to See and Do at Cutty Sark
Spending some time exploring the various charms of the Cutty Sark can make for a fun outing. Here a few more things to see and do during your visit.
•Upon paid entry to the attraction, every Cutty Sark visitor is entitled to download a free audio guide straight to their smart phones. This complimentary audio guide is a terrific way to learn more about the rich history of the Cutty Sark as you move about the vessel in real time.
•There’s so much to see and do while aboard the Cutty Sark that it can be easy to forget to take a moment and enjoy your surroundings. That’s right, while on the ship you’ll be privy to wonderful scenic views up and down the Thames. Numerous other popular London attractions are found nearby, too, destinations like the Old Royal Naval College, the National Maritime Museum, the Queen’s House, and the Royal Observatory Greenwich.
•Underneath the Cutty Sark’s famous copper hull guests may opt to partake in afternoon tea before or after they tour the ship. This special experience includes a selection of sandwiches, pastries, and of course, teas.
•The Cutty Sark also has a ship-themed gift shop where you’ll be able to find that perfect souvenir, no matter whether you’re interested in taking home toys, books, games, models, or even a decorative print.
Why the Cutty Sark Should Be on Your Must-See List
England has a long, rich history as both a seafaring nation and a country of proud tea drinkers, and the Cutty Sark has played an important role in each one of these identities. Touring the Cutty Sark provides visitors with the opportunity to learn more about everything from nineteenth-century trade routes to the lives of British sailors, all while enjoying some fresh air along the Thames in the midst of a popular historic attraction.