Preserving Cutty Sark, then and now (3) - Messing about in boats

Half marathon notice

Visitor notice: On Sunday 4 March Cutty Sark and the museum car park will be closed for the Vitality Big Half Marathon. All other museums will be open as normal and DLR and rail links will be running. Find out about road closures

Documentations Officer Claire Denham takes us behind the scenes at Cutty Sark, to give us an insight into the important daily research, documentation and maintenance work that keeps Cutty Sark preserved for many future generations to come. This month, we find out how the ship’s boats have fared over the years. 

Work to the Captain’s gig has just been undertaken by our ship keeping team this month. The Captain’s gig is situated on the forward deckhouse, with the two lifeboats and jolly boat on the aft deckhouse.

In the original specification the boats are descripted as follows: 'To be four in number according to scale of board of trade two lifeboats, one cutter and gig. All boats to stand on chocks or skids.'

The original boats were painted in a man-o war fashion, black topsides with white bottoms. When Captain Woodget (1885-1895) received new boats for the ship he proceed to paint when all white against his bosses orders to remain the same. When the ship's owner old White Hat questioned him on this issue Woodget simply replied ‘because they look better in white’ and no more was said on the issue.

Crew members during voyage

During her working years the boats were replaced regularly. As mentioned in the log of Cutty Sark by Basil Lubbock: 'During a voyage back to Britain filled with wool in 1885 she was struck by a terrific squall smashing skids and taking the port lifeboat and all gear overboard, shifting the starboard boat, and doing other damage.'

In 1888, during a wait between cargos in Sydney, Captain Woodget would put on Saturday afternoon picnics for crew and friends. The second mate was steering the gig with Woodget in the cutter upfront, heading down the harbour when he gybed her all standing. His crew of apprentices were all sitting on the weather side instead of in the bottom of the boat and over she went! Only two of the boys could swim, but they were all picked up. Two of the boys took in so much salt water they had to go back to the ship and missed the picnic.

All of Cutty Sark’s boats are clinker built. During the 1950’s restoration they were renewed as shells, thinking that if they were adequately stiffened this would suffice, as they were not going back in the water. At this time a document surfaced; a note book from ships carpenter Henry Henderson giving the exact dimensions of the boats, so accurate replicas could be fashioned. During her time in Greenwich the boats were later fitted out to be seaworthy and have been involved in summer boating regattas, including the Isle of Wight old gaffers, Henley and the great river race where in previous years she has achieved 1st and 2nd place in her class (I was rowing of course!)

Gig on forward deckhouse (1957)

After restoration work in 2011 the gig was in need of some TLC. Various seams in the planking were opening up, flaking paint, holes and rot around the transom, with rot also in parts of the keel and stem post. All rot was dug out and resin used to fill the voids, she was also sanded back and given a new lick of paint. The chocks and deckhouse roof upon where she sits were also sanded back and painted making the area all ship shape again.