How to look after a 19th Century clipper ship

“At sea if you were visited by other sailors and the ship wasn’t in tip top condition you are going to get talked about. It has to be perfect, and the same standards are expected here”

Cutty Sark is a survivor; throughout her eventful career she has withstood storms, collisions, mutiny and fire but her undoing nearly came due to years of struggling to keep her ship-shape. Back in 1998 a survey of the ship by Three Quays Marine Services suggested if nothing were done to conserve the structure of the ship she would become unsafe within approximately ten years. This prompted a need to completely overhaul the ship. This was only achievable thanks to a HLF bid and subsequent grant from The Heritage Lottery fund, and a sea of funders and donors.

The subsequent Cutty Sark conservation project (2006-2012) ensured she was fit to continue her next adventure into the 21st century, but the story doesn’t end there. Although she had a complete restoration, a ship like Cutty Sark exposed to the elements, made of materials such as wood and iron which are susceptible to degradation over time, poses a unique challenge and requires a constant regime of maintenance and care, but fear not!

Behind the scenes we have our dedicated ship keeping team. Headed by Simon Thompson our ship keeping manager, three ship keeping technicians and our fabulous volunteers ranging from students, sailors, conservators and retirees: all dedicated to the cause of preserving her for future generations.

Image of Ship keeping Manager Simon Thompson
Ship keeping Manager Simon Thompson
Simon is keenly aware of the huge task and responsibility of keeping this grade 1 listed ship in order.

'It can feel a little overwhelming at times, the level of maintenance and conservation tasks that are involved in keeping Cutty Sark in sound condition and looking good is a huge challenge. Although we have a relatively small maintenance team we are supported by the rest of the Cutty Sark staff, volunteers, multiple departments across the museum and by our fantastic team of riggers, everyone is invested in playing a role in continuing Cutty Sark’s journey. I dearly love the ship and the work we carry out and feel honoured to be part of safeguarding the ships survival and look forward to the challenges that a survivor like Cutty Sark offers up.'

There is never a typical day on the ship; wetting down the deck is essential to keeping the deck watertight and not drying out, then any number of task are performed, in summer the emphasis is on oiling the brightworks, ranging from pinrails to deckhouse and everything else in-between, painting woodwork and ironwork, hull inspections, caulking the hull and decking where needed, removing of fixtures and fittings like the navigation lamps, or ship’s wheel for essential works to keep them in first rate condition.

The newest member of our team is Carol Anderson our ship keeping technician who has had many years’ experience sailing square riggers around the world giving invaluable knowledge to the workings of a traditional sailing ship.

‘Working on a static ship is a lot easier access wise, but there are similarities especially in keeping up the same high standards of work on board. At sea if you were visited by other sailors and the ship wasn’t in tip top condition you are going to get talked about, it has to be perfect and the same standards are expected here.’

Image of ship technicians Carol Anderson and Christy Yates
Ship technicians Carol Anderson and Christy Yates