What does a Senior Shipkeeping Technician do?
This week we met up with our Senior Shipkeeping Technician Piran Harte, who has been working at Cutty Sark since 2012. With background experience in conservation projects involving churches, galleries and boats, and a great passion for ships, it was not surprising that we found Piran busying away on the lower hold when we caught up with him for a chat.
Piran describes his role as a ‘labour of love’, and, sitting comfortably in the Even Keel Café underneath the ship’s hull, he explains what he finds most rewarding when working on Cutty Sark: ‘The reward lies in the result of the ship being kept just the way she is. If all goes well, visitors won’t even notice we are here keeping Cutty Sark well looked after and in a good state of repair.’
With a small team, Piran has created a 25 year schedule in order to keep the ship well looked after, and tasks can vary from caulking, oiling the wood and swelling the decks and timbers to general housekeeping to make sure she is beautifully preserved for visitors. Without this consistent work throughout the year Cutty Sark would become weathered and degradation would start to take hold quickly. Piran: ‘The weather is the biggest threat to the ship, as well as the pollution in London, and she would simply not cope without a routine in place to keep her preserved. It’s funny, she is made to be in all kinds of weather, yet it is now her worst enemy. Daily, especially in the summer, we need to swell her timbers and deck, in order for the wood to expand, which in the long term prevents leaks.’
Most would imagine Piran and the team working on the Main Deck, however this is not always the case as the inside of the ship needs just as much TLC as the outside. ‘Our summer and winter schedules differ slightly. When the weather is bad we tend to pay more attention to maintaining the inside of the ship. For example, you’d be surprised of the amount of dust visitors bring in when they visit Cutty Sark, and this settles right at the bottom of the ship, forming a layer of dirt. Twice a year, we make sure this is hoovered out; otherwise dust which attracts and holds moisture would eat away at her structure. The winter also brings the opportunity to remove smaller artifacts from the ship, and we take these back to our workshop which is not too far from here.’
Piran is one of the few lucky ones who get to occasionally climb into the bottom of the ship: ‘On the Main Deck at the stern of the ship by the wheel, there is a hatch. This is where the sails would have been kept. If you were to go through the hatch, you can climb all the way to the bottom of the ship following the rudder, and if you wanted to, you could continue to crawl the full length of the ship; from stern to bow parallel with the keel. It’s uncomfortable, but sometimes it has to be done in order to reach parts of the ship which may need some attention in order to keep her maintained.’
Finally, we asked Piran what he enjoys most about being a Shipkeeping Technician on board Cutty Sark: ‘The visitors – As someone who likes to travel, it is always nice to meet other travelers. I enjoy hearing the interesting stories about experiences on board yachts, boats and ships. Some visitors like to share their ideas with me, while others ask for tips. I’m also lucky to have a very nice team to work with, including volunteers who help out with some of the big tasks on board.’