Back from an overseas work trip, and starting to make a dent in reviewing and editing the 1200-odd photos taken over the two weeks I was away. While the work and act of travelling itself keep me quite busy, I also make a very deliberate effort each trip to get out and about after hours and on weekends to discover the places I am visiting. A large stack of photos is the usual product of this enthusiasm to explore.
Stop 1 on this year’s journey, after a 26 hour flight from Australia, was London. Arriving at dawn on a Saturday morning, the first priority was a few hours sleep to take the edge off the tiredness. The day’s plan was said quick rest followed by an afternoon ferry ride down the Thames to Greenwich to see the Cutty Sark.
The Cutty Sark is an example of the fast commercial sailing ships known as tea clippers and the only remaining substantially intact example of her kind. The tea clippers are iconic sailing ships, representing the pinnacle of square rigger design development. Built for speed, the hull lines of the tea clippers are the most graceful of all the large sailing ships. The Cutty Sark was built in Scotland in 1869.
My interest in the tea clippers began way back in the early 1970’s when, as a lad of 12 or 13 I carefully assembled an Airfix model of the Cutty Sark. Around the same time I became an avid reader of practically any book to do with the sea, ranging from the recollections of square rigger sailing ship captains such as Joseph Conrad and Alan Villiers to the autobiographies of early round the world yachtsmen like Sir Francis Chichester.
I had planned to visit the Cutty Sark on an earlier trip, but renovations commenced in 2006 and then she suffered major fire damage in 2007 after an electrical fault. So a visit was postponed, for quite some time as it transpired. Repairs took five years and she only re-opened to the public in April 2012. So, with the Cutty Sark’s restoration complete, a visit on my next overseas trip quickly moved towards the top of the ‘wish to do’ list.
From the centre of London, Greenwich can be reached a number of ways, but the most interesting journey is to take a ferry down the Thames from Westminster. The ferry ride is a great way to get a quick overview of central London and, for the nautically interested, there’s plenty of historic shipping and port infrastructure to see along the way, which leads me to the day’s photos…
The ferry trip can be continued beyond Greenwich to see the Thames Barrier, the movable flood protection gates designed to protect London from storm surges coming up the Thames from the North Sea. But I was somewhat time-constrained, so hopped off at Greenwich.
The Cutty Sark is located in a dry dock immediately to one side of the Greenwich ferry terminal, so certainly isn’t hard to find!
Here she is, on a lovely day in early summer.
The glass canopy around the lower hull has been added during the recent renovations, and has proven to be somewhat controversial. The benefit is the creation of a very pleasant all-weather space within the dry dock itself. The downside is that the lines of the ship, an essential part of her character, have become somewhat obscured.
Now, back to reality. There is an entry charge, £12 as of mid-2013. An extra couple of quid will also provide access to the museum areas of the Royal Observatory. I recommend handing over the extra if the Greenwich Observatory is also to be visited.
Once inside, an opening has been cut in the hull on the starboard side towards the stern. This permits easy access to the hold.
The hold is given over to displays related to the Cutty Sark’s initial and intended role of bring tea back to England from China. Fresh tea was a delicacy in 18th century England and ships that could bring the first shipments of a new season’s tea back to England earned a bonus for the trip. This is what drove the development of the “tea clippers” to be the fastest of commercial shipping. The term “clipper” derives from the use of the word “clip” to mean moving along at a fast pace, as in “he raced along at a fair clip”.
Unfortunately, the tea clippers only had a short life on the China tea trade. With the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, early steam ships could pass through the Mediterranean and the Suez Canal, cutting thousands of miles from the journey via the Cape of Good Hope. Sailing ships could not readily navigate the canal, and found themselves displaced. The Cutty Sark spent only a few short years on the tea trade.
Instead, the clippers turned to the wool trade from Australia. Here the Cutty Sark was the fastest ship on the route for ten years.
Moving up onto the main deck…
Living arrangements varies from the comfortable to the basic…
Leaving the ship itself, an elevator can take you down to the floor of the dry dock. From here, the elegant and fast lines of the Cutty Sark can be truly appreciated…
To Learn More
There’s plenty to see and do in Greenwich and a day could easily be devoted to visiting the area. In addition to the Cutty Sark, other attractions include:
- the Royal Observatory (and the ability to stand on the 0º meridian line)
- the National Maritime Museum
- Greenwich market
- Greenwich Park
- the Old Royal Naval College designed by Christopher Wren
London is overall pretty flat terrain. The hill on which the Royal Observatory is located is one of the few elevated locations giving a great view of London.
Official website for the Cutty Sark can be found here.
There are several ferry companies providing services to Greenwich. The website for the one I used can be found here. The boat I was on was relatively slow, which was fine given I hadn’t seen London from the river before. There are other companies offering faster services.