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The Cutty Sark clipper ship is dry-docked by Greenwich Pier.
When she was built in 1869 she was the fastest tea clipper of her generation, sailing up to 360 miles a day. In 1871 she set the record for the fastest trip between London and China, completing the journey in just 107 days.
The opening of the Suez Canal saw journey times slashed, so the Cutty Sark lost its speed advantage. She was then sold to a Portuguese company in 1895, and bought back to London in 1954.
The Cutty Sark is believed to have taken her name from an Robert Burns poem called Tam O’Shanter, in which he mentions a pretty young witch wearing nothing but a “cutty sark” – an old name for a short skirt.
This review originally appeared in his London blog
If you’re going to Greenwich for any reason, then take a tip from me and catch a boat from Westminster. Tube trains should be banned to Greenwich because you’re missing out on the best bit – the river ride on a boat.
It takes about an hour to get from Westminster Pier to Greenwich Pier, and if it’s boiling hot like it was today then you’ll get a lovely cool breeze in your face to cool you down. So get a boat. If I find out that you caught a train instead then there will be big trouble. Get a boat or you’re missing out on a treat!
When you disembark at Greenwich the Cutty Sark will be right in front of you, and you can see the tall mast towering up as you come into dock. They way they’ve displayed it is quite clever – the entire ship is raised above the floor by about 20-feet and then they’ve wrapped a big blue glass canopy around it, which is supposed to look like the sea.
Their idea was to make it look as if the ship is floating in some water. Which it doesn’t, obviously. It looks as if it’s beached itself inside a giant greenhouse. But it still looks very impressive.
As soon as you’ve bought a ticket you’re straight into the cargo hold. They’ve got a lot of wooden crates and palates stacked up so you can get a taste of what it must have been like on an ocean-going voyage.
They’ve got a lot of snazzy computer screens as well, which I didn’t really think fitted the mood, but what do I know. You have to read them to find out the history of the boat, discover where it went, what it carried, and who worked on it, etc. It’s interesting enough if you like boats, but one of my pet hates is when I visit tourist attractions only to have to sit down and watch a boring TV program.
Dotted around the decks are cabinets full of momentoes – they’ve got the original bell and the carved lady on the front. The second deck is much the same, except they’ve got sacks of wool instead of tea chests.
The most enjoyable deck for me was the top one – the one on top that’s open to the sky. You get to walk the entire length of the ship from stern to aft (I think they’re the correct words). And the whole ship is rigged up with ropes, too, right to the very top of the mast. Sadly they haven’t got any sails on, but it’s still a very impressive sight when you’re standing underneath them. It makes you wonder how they climbed up the mast to let the sails out.
As you walk around the deck there are lots of little cabins you can peer into, to see where the captain and his crew lived. You can look into the kitchen and galley as well. (Are they the right words? I’m talking about the room with a dining table and mantlepiece in it, where the captain must ate with his mates.)
There are also lots of little cages dotted around the decks where they kept the farmyard animals – still alive! And speakers make loud pig and chicken noises so you can hear what it must have been like to live onboard the boat.
After that you catch the lift down to the bottom of the museum. Because they’ve raised the ship up this entire space is now underneath the hull, and you can view it hanging from the ceiling.
There’s a little restaurant and a few more exhibits down there. But the best exhibit is right at the end – a huge collection of ship’s figureheads, all stacked up on the steps and staring out in a very macabre fashion.
> Read Craig’s latest review of the Cutty Sark “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 it’s 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… continued.”
> Read Craig’s review of the National Maritime Museum “I do like the National Maritime Museum, but given Britain’s rich history of war on the waves, and the fact that we won just about every battle we ever fought, it always seems a bit sparse on content to me. Where’s the rest of it? I suppose we must have sunk it all. All you’ll find downstairs are some ship’s figureheads, a titchy model of Nelson’s Column, a gilded barge from Georgian times, two old industrial engines, a few scale models and a silver speedboat. That is practically it. That is downstairs done… unless you like looking at old paintings of the River Thames. Luckily I do, but I’m not sure how interesting they will be to a… continued.”
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People usually spend a whole day in Greenwich visiting the National Maritime Museum and Royal Observatory and Planetarium on top of Greenwich Hill. The Old Royal Naval College and Painted Hall are also worth a look. The best way to get there is a City Cruise from Westminster to Greenwich. Here is our complete list of sightseeing boats to Greenwich.
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