Launch of the Cutty Sark
There is something enduringly tragic about the clipper Cutty Sark : the last of her type to be built when she was launched at Dumbarton on November 23 1869, her era was almost past when she first put to sea. Her fame in her own day came too from heroic failure, losing the 1872 race from China to London to bring the first of the new season’s tea to Britain: she lost her rudder and her captain had another improvised rather than heading for port for full repairs, so determined was he to continue the race – but she still lost if only by a week. And of course in our own time she was nearly destroyed by fire at her Greenwich home in 2007 .
In these times of high oil prices and environmental awareness the Cutty Sark is, however, something of a symbol of what can be accomplished by harnessing the elements, able to travel from Australia to Britain in just 67 days by sail-power alone. Designed by the wonderfully-named Hercules Linton of the Dumbarton shipwrights Scott and Linton, she had been ordered by the even more intriguingly named Jock “White Hat” Willis to ply the tea-trade with distant China. And to conclude the whole question of names, Cutty Sark comes from the Robert Burns poem Tam o’Shanter, rather a risqué reference meaning short skirt, as worn by and providing the nickname for the character Nannie Dee in that work.
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