Tuesday, December 04, 2012

The Restored Cutty Sark

Yesterday's picture was from the Cutty Sark which it is fair to say has proved a controversial restoration, with one critic calling it a grade A turkey.

Having a spare Sunday I took the tube from Putney to Greenwich to make up my own mind, and found myself conflicted between delight and a hollow emptiness.

On the plus side there is much to enjoy, from the rigging gracing the sky, the blocks and spars wired up with ropes as they should be. The space under the hull is a amazing, full of light, the old tea clipper glowing in gold. The much debated main deck (composites not real wood) doesn't distract from the overall look.

But... it felt wrong.

The old, real Cutty Sark didn't have a lift forcing its way between decks. It didn't have a visitors trail leading you between exhibits, it didn't have fake tea chests, it didn't have sailing computer games, it didn't have a whopping great hole cut into its side:
It felt like the Cutty Sark "experience": it was no longer a ship that could set sail, and when that happens something for me dies.

But was that an option? Things were in a bad way before the fire, as can be seen by this unrestored beam:
The metal was similarly corroded, so it would have been less of a restoration and more of a rebuilding.

There is that philosophical question if you replace something bit by bit at what point it is no longer the original, and that could have been a choice for the Cutty Sark. However that option still remains as someone out there could build their own tea clipper, using her as the design template.

While saddened by what she has become I feel that her current form has a chance to survive for future generations, who can then decide what they want to do with her. There is the question about whether raising the hull is the right solution structurally but I am not qualified to judge, though I understood there was a steel shell holding everything together taking the load.

The Cutty Sark does look good, and it is a great day out for families, which means more people will see her, learn about her and be impressed, being less conscious of the lack of sailability. She is part of Britain's maritime history, part of the National Maritime Museum.

The Cutty Sark is dead. Long live the Cutty Sark.


Baydog said...

And I'll take another round.

O Docker said...

When I first heard of this, I assumed they lacked the funds for a proper restoration, so they'd come up with a plan to display the ship without making it seaworthy.

But it sounds like they've spent far more than a restoration would have cost and have destroyed a national treasure in the process. The more you read about this, the more administrative bungling is revealed. Even the fire seems to have been caused by mismanagement. What a tragedy.

JP said...

The TV program about the restoration did not give confidence in the management team. They certainly had enough money - the budget was over £ 50 million.

The question I have was what the options were and which of them could have left her more of a seaworthy ship. It might be that they all would leave so little left that you might as well start again, and in the process a lot more would have be destroyed.

The real crime was probably insufficient attention earlier on to let her end up in the state where there weren't any good options left.

O Docker said...

From just a few things available on the Interwebs, it paints as a classic picture of the preservationists on one side and commercial interests on the other, with local pols not up to the job in the middle. Mix in bean counters arguing for a revenue source rather than an ongoing revenue drain, and it seems to have ended the way such things usually do.

I'd guess there will be some books about all of this. Any yet?

JP said...

No books yet, but I was tempted in the Cutty Sark's shop by one called "Square Rigger Days"