Friday, May 4, 2012

Cutty Sark

Commander and friends at Cutty Sark, Greenwich (Photo: Jon Shields)

The Conservative tour of London continues with a celebration of free trade at the Cutty Sark ( in Greenwich.  Any American conservative who likes the tea party (TEA = Taxed Enough Already) cannot afford to miss out on seeing the most famous tea Clipper of them all -- the Cutty Sark.  I went with some friends to see the newly re-opened Cutty Sark in Greenwich just one week after the Queen's ribbon cutting ceremony.  I had, like millions of others, seen her before.  Nevertheless, I was truly astonished by how gorgeous, different and better she looks today.  She is, arguably the most beautiful ship ever built by man, perhaps simply one of the most beautiful objects ever created.

She was built to bring tea back from China to London quickly.  She was a composite ship built of wood and iron launched in 1869.  She cost 16,150 pounds to build.  She was among the fastest ships in the world at that time reaching a top speed of 17.5 knots and once recording 363 nautical miles in a 24 hour period.

A "Cutty Sark" is a womans' undergarment and is a reference to Robert Burns' poem Tam O'Shanter.  This is a charming traditional Scottish poem wherein the hero, Tam, gets drunk every market day and rides to town.  Riding home late that night on his faithful horse "Maggie," he notices that the lights are on in the church and that witches and warlocks have desecrated the church and are dancing to a tune played on the bagpipe (what else?), played by the devil himself.  All the witches are old and repulsive, save one -- Nannie Dee.  She is...

ae winsome wench and waulie 
Her cutty sark, o'paisley harn,
That while a lassie she had worn,
Commander and the Keel (Photo: Jon Shields)
In longitude tho' sorely scanty,
It was her best, and she was vauntie* 

Tam, thunderstruck by this apparition cries out, "Weel done, Cutty Sark!"  The witch Nannie Dee then grab's Tam's horse tail which you will find ornamenting the prow of the ship.

When you see the Cutty Sark today you too may exclaim, Weel done, Cutty Sark!"  The ship suffered a major fire in 2007 and was closed to the public and in restoration up until late April of this year.  The cost to restore the ship was 50 million pounds!  The entire ship has been raised up above a spiffy new cafeteria. The keel, which was rotting away and invisible to the public is now a highlight of the tour, sparkling with newly installed and highly polished brass.

Commander and the figureheads (Photo: Jon Shields)
The glorious collection of figureheads from ships now long gone is on display near the ship's keel.  They feature famous Victorians such as Disraeli, Gladstone, General "Chinese" Gordon, and Florence Nightingale.

Cutty Sark, launched in 1869, was made obsolete the very same year with the opening of the Suez canal to steamship traffic.  Sailing vessels could not navigate the canal without great difficulty and the steamers could now take a shortcut eliminating the long trip around the horn of Africa for ships bound between Europe and Asia.  Cutty Sark was repurposed to haul Merino wool from Australia to Europe.

The temperance movement, which was powerful in Britain and the USA in the 19th century, encouraged tea as temperance beverage, spurring demand for tea clippers like Cutty Sark.  It is, therefore, somewhat ironic that the wine merchants, Berry Brothers and Rudd, ( would chose the name "Cutty Sark" for the blended whisky product that they hoped to introduce in 1923 to the north American market.  Due to Prohibition, they would need to wait ten years before they could begin exporting to the USA.

 If these "dry" ideas are making you thirsty, then Commander Kelly suggests that you repair to the nearby Trafalgar Tavern ( or the Meantime Brewery ( for some much-needed refreshment.

 Source: Cutty Sark Souvenir Guide, Dr. Eric Kentley, 2012

* Vauntie: vain, boastful proud

Horatio and Commander by Trafalgar Tavern (Photo: Jon Shields)

The Cutty Sark ad

If you like the ship, you'll love the store...

You can purchase signed copies of America Invades
or copies on Amazon...

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