Half-term at Cutty Sark: sailors' pastimes

You would not think there was time for many enjoyments on board one of the fastest ships in the world. However, Captain Richard Woodget (Cutty Sark's master 1885-1895) had some rather unusual pastimes. 

He kept three collie dogs, learnt how to ride a bike and roller-skated on the ship. Despite being an expensive hobby, Woodget also became a keen photographer and provided a unique record of the ship and her journeys. 

Captain Woodget's photography

And there was plenty of comradery on board too. There was an apprentice called “Squeaker” on account of his voice. The bosun bet him he couldn’t climb up the main mast and down the other side with only one boot on. ‘’Squeaker’’ took the bet, took off a boot and climbed. But he lost. The bet was to do the climb with only one boot on and no other clothes!

With such small living quarters, sailors enjoyed games of dice, cards and dominoes. Along with drawing, practising knots and model-making, they would also have shared stories, sang sea shanties and played musical instruments such as the penny whistle. From letters written by Cutty Sark apprentice Clarence Edwin Ray, we know that some sailors also kept personal logs as well as writing letters home.

There are also accounts of sailors boxing on board the ship. Apprentice J.L. Vivian Millett writes ‘we pommelled pretty hard, too, and the men used to sit night after night and watch our bouts’. As an apprentice on another ship, Millett also writes about a play fight that took place where ‘we all went for each other with pillows’.

When in port, pastimes included inviting visitors on board. It is believed that the sailors once held a ball on the ‘Tween Deck of the ship when it was docked in Melbourne, Australia. Sailors were also allowed shore leave to spend time on dry land, which they may have spent in the infamous sailor towns. 

Sailors on board Cutty Sark

Pass your time this May half-term by joining us on board Cutty Sark for our games themed family activities. Show off your sailor skills and complete our challenges as you navigate your way around our life-sized gaming board.  Will you be able to collect all the cargoes from around the world and make it back safely to England? Only the bravest need apply.