Cutty Sark review
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When I was a kid the Cutty Sark used to be beached inside a dry concrete pit, and all the stale rainwater would collect in the corners in a dirty stew of sticks and polystyrene cups. Ah, nostalgia! Nowadays its floating on a greenhouse.
It's quite clever the way they've done it. Imagine a half-bubble of glass with a boat dropped on top, sinking halfway through the roof. It's a bit like a cherry on top of a bun. It just sits on top with its decks exposed, and you can have a stroll around the basement and see it hanging in mid-air, like a giant chandelier. The only other place that you can view a boat from such a unique angle is on the bottom of the seabed.
While I'm sitting here waiting for the doors to open a party of fifty school kids has turned up -- noisy ones. And three teachers, too -- even noisier than the kids, all shouting like stressed-out sergeant majors. They're trying to marshal their adolescent army into a tidy line, but not having much luck. I wonder if they still have a plank onboard this boat? Are you still allowed to make people walk the plank these days? Probably not. But I never understood the point of a plank anyway. Why bother blindfolding them and making them walk five feet on a bendy bit of wood? Just shoot them! Or fire them out of a cannon, or something. Throw them over the side. Who cares whether they can balance on a bit of wood?
Part of me would quite like to be a sailor. Half of my head wants to stow away on a boat and never come home. But then I come to somewhere like this and learn that life onboard wasn't much fun. They've stacked up a few sacks and bags and crates of cargo to give you a taste of the space, but most of it is empty space today -- taken up by flashing TV screens showing scenes of the sloshing sea. They've got a little sit down cinema as well, projecting a little movie onto the back of some tea chests to tell you what it did and where it went. I like sitting here and listening to all of the sounds floating out of the speakers: you can hear the creaking hull and brass bell ringing on top, and a few seagulls flapping around outside.
The next deck has got a few interactive table tops and models for the kids (not very exciting) and some scale models of the ship. You'll find some original artefacts on show as well -- they've got a lifebelt, a barometer and a bell, but not a lot else. The middle deck seems rather sparse and empty to me -- they should have put some more cargo boxes in there.
The top deck is by far the most interesting. What a beautiful deck. It's all polished wood and coils of rope. The masts are towering fifty feet at least, and I'm struggling to see where they finish because their pointed tops are puncturing the sun. I can only imagine what they must have looked like with their white sails billowing -- what an amazing sight! Why don't they put them back on again? This ship has got no clothes on. But even without its skin the bones are beautiful.
How on earth did the sailors manage to climb to the top of the mast? They must have been mad! You would require balls of steel to even attempt it today, so imagine what it must have been like when the boat was rolling around on the South China seas.
You can have a nose around a couple of the crew cabins and see the five-foot bunkbeds where they slept (you'd have to chop your feet off to fit inside). You can also look inside the beautiful saloon with its warm wood and hanging lamps of polished brass -- it even has a cast iron fireplace in it. Did they not have health and safety laws in the 19th century? I don't think I'd fancy lighting a fire on a wooden boat. That shows you how soft we are these days. The only time this boat ever caught fire was actually right here in Greenwich, on this very spot, when some hoodlums torched it in dry dock.
The end of the tour takes you down into the concrete pit underneath the ship. As you come down the stairs you can see the whole thing suspended above you like a storm cloud in the sky. It is huge. If you stick a pair of wings on it then it would bigger than a jumbo jet. It seems far too heavy to be hanging from the ceiling. It reminds me of that big blue whale at the Natural History Museum.
The final exhibit is a collection of colourful figureheads, but there's not a lot else. Just a lot of screaming kids and nattering families in the cafe.
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