Top 10 Cutty Sark facts

Did you know that Cutty Sark was a Portuguese ship for longer than it was a British cargo ship? Here are our top ten facts about this record-breaking clipper.

1. Cutty Sark is 148 years old

It was launched on 22 November 1869 in Dumbarton, Scotland. Built to last for just thirty years, it is now in its third century. It served as a working ship for fifty-two years, a training ship for twenty-two years and has been open to visitors in Maritime Greenwich for sixty years.

2. 653 men served on it as a British ship

The majority of those who served on it did so only once, signing up for a round voyage from London and back again. They ranged in age from a fourteen year old apprentice to a fifty-six year old sail maker. They came from more than thirty different countries around the world.

Image of a sail maker and apprentice on the poop deck of Cutty Sark
A sail maker and apprentice on the poop deck of Cutty Sark

3. Cutty Sark has travelled 957,995 nautical miles

During its years as a British merchant ship, Cutty Sark visited sixteen different countries and travelled the equivalent of two and half voyages to the moon and back.

4. Cutty Sark was a Portuguese ship for longer than it was a British cargo ship

Cutty Sark’s aging owner, John ‘Jock’ Willis sold his off his fleet towards the end of his life. Cutty Sark was sold to a Portuguese firm in 1895. It served as Ferreira for twenty-seven years and then, following another exchange of ownership, as Maria do Amparo for a number of months.

Image of Portuguese crew on board Ferreira
Portuguese crew on board Ferreira

5. Cutty Sark was built for the China tea trade but would carry a vast array of cargoes in its career

Cutty Sark carried almost 10 million lbs of tea between 1870 and 1877. The opening of the Suez Canal marked the end for sailing ships in the tea trade and so Cutty Sark had to find new employ. It transported a variety of cargoes, including over 10,000 tons of coal, before finding its calling in the Australian wool trade. It would transport more than 45,000 bales in its career.

6. Cutty Sark represents the pinnacle of clipper ship design

Clipper ships are marked by three design characteristics - a long, narrow hull, a sharp bow which cuts through the waves rather riding atop - and three raking masts. Cutty Sark’s main mast extends to over 150 feet (47m) high. It carried a maximum of thirty-two sails; supported by eleven miles of rigging and when set in the right conditions could help the ship to achieve a top speed of 17.5 knots (or 20 miles an hour).

Image of Cutty Sark depicted by Herbert Barnard John Everett
Cutty Sark depicted by Herbert Barnard John Everett

7. Fifteen members of Cutty Sark’s crew died while in service

Six were lost overboard; seven died of illness including dysentery and cholera; one was killed in a brawl and one committed suicide.

8. Overall, however, Cutty Sark is an extremely fortunate ship

It survived storms which ripped its rudder off on two occasions, survived a dismasting in the First World War and a terrible fire in 2007. In the year before the fire, the majority of Cutty Sark’s original fabric had been removed. This meant that, while devastating, the fire was nowhere near as destructive as it could have been. Over 90% of the ship’s hull structure is original to 1869.

9. A chance encounter ensured its survival

Having left London in 1922, Ferreira encountered a storm and had to call in at Falmouth for repairs. Here it was spotted by retired sea Captain Wilfred Dowman. Dowman had fond memories of Cutty Sark as a ship that surged past his own some twenty-seven years before. He vowed to bring this remarkable ship back to Britain. He and his wife, Catharine, paid over the odds and without them, there’s no doubt Cutty Sark would still be with us.

Image of Cutty Sark at Falmouth, 1924 - 1938

10. A special dry dock was built for Cutty Sark in Greenwich in 1954

After an extensive restoration, Cutty Sark was opened by HM the Queen on 25 June 1957. As a symbol of Britain’s maritime trade, it became a memorial to the Merchant Navy and the 44,000 men killed in both world wars. Since 1957, Cutty Sark has welcomed over 16 million people. We look forward adding more in the years to come.