Olla-Podrida: Julian Stockwin Newsletter, May 2012


Cutty Sark after the fire

May, 2012

[Olla-podrida: an affectionate 18th-century term for a colourful medley of items]

We’re dedicating this issue to “Cutty Sark”, the last surviving tea clipper and the fastest and greatest such vessel of her time, relaunching +today+ after a GBP50 million restoration.


Broadly Boats News


Nighthawk News

Firetrench Directory


THE UK edition of the paperback of the 12th book in the Kydd series, CONQUEST, is published on May 10.

The paperback will be available in Australia/New Zealand, Canada and South Africa in the following month. The US paperback of the title comes out in October, published by McBooks Press.

For details of signing events, see the website.

The popular monthly historical/maritime fiction newsletter edited by George Jepson is back in early May, and features an interview with Julian. You can sign up for a free copy


Julian was invited to a special pre-launch tour of the ship during a recent visit to London. His verdict: “I was bowled over by what I saw. Being able to walk under the ship and admire the uniquely beautiful sweep of her hull lines that made her a true sea champion was amazing.”

Julian has a special connection with the ship. His great uncle Tom Clay, a seaman in square-rigged ships, sailed around Cape Horn in “Cutty Sark” and took a young Julian over the ship a number of times. This was a great influence on him – no one else in his family had any connection with the sea.

In subsequent years Julian visited “Cutty Sark” as an adult many times, and as well as having been invited to deliver several talks aboard, he has given “hands-on” sessions for children to learn about the skills, such as boxing the compass and knot-tying, needed in an nineteenth-century sailing ship.

During one of his talks he read a passage about a voyage to the Far East (from Lubbock’s book, see EDITOR’s CHOICE) when “Cutty Sark” was running her easting down in the Great Southern Ocean. Julian introduced the passage saying: “Now well on her way past the Cape and sailing magnificently, this captures for me the hold she had over the hearts of men.” Here’s an excerpt: “A tremendous sea was running whose long hill-like ridges rolled up astern until it seemed that the ship must be pooped and swept out of existence. But in such a case “Cutty Sark” was always game and running beautifully, lifting clear of each sea…The strongest part of the blow lasted for three days…”

On another occasion, Julian was interviewed by BBC radio aboard “Cutty Sark” for a special programme on food at sea. In the galley, a splendid repast of lobscouse, dog’s body (pease pudding) and figgy dowdy was prepared for him to sample! Why not try the dishes yourself?

“Cutty Sark” is a full-rigged ship. Not a big vessel, even by the standards of the time, in her day she was the fastest square-rigged ship that ever moved through the water under power of sail alone. She is a composite build – ribs and deck beams of iron; outer skin and deck of wood, mainly teak, which was comparatively impervious to worm and decay.

Date of launch: 22 November, 1869
Built in: Dumbarton, Scotland
Cost: GBP16,150
Gross tonnage: 963 tons
Number of sails: 32 sails
Sail area: 32,000 sq. ft.
Rigging: 11 miles
Length: 212.5ft
Length overall: 280ft
Beam: 36ft
Registered depth: 21ft
Moulded depth: 22.5ft
Height of main mast: 152ft
Top speed: Over 17 knots

With this speed “Cutty Sark” could give even a steamship a run for its money! She demonstrated this with the crack P&O SS “Britannia” on 25 July 1889. “Britannia”, doing around 15 knots was overhauled by “Cutty Sark”. Robert Olivey, second officer on “Britannia”, watched the spectacle with amazement and then wrote in Britannia’s log “Sailing ship overhauled and passed us!”

“Cutty Sark” houses the world’s largest collection of Merchant Navy figureheads. Now in a new special exhibition area, the collection consists of over 80 figureheads, mostly dating from the 19th century, originating from different types of merchant vessels. It includes characters from history, legend and literature, such as: Florence Nightingale, Elizabeth Fry, William Wilberforce, Disraeli, Hiawatha and Sir Lancelot.
The ship’s own figurehead is a bare-breasted Nannie, the witch of Robert Burns’s poem, reaching out, in her pursuit of Tam o’Shanter, for the tail of his mare Meg. After one particular sea passage in which she had indeed gone like a witch, a tail of teased rope yarns was fastened into Nannie’s hands, an addition that remains to this day.

Built on the River Clyde at Dunbarton, “Cutty Sark” was launched in 1869, built for the lucrative tea trade from China. She was then the most advanced ship in existence, and could carry more than 1.3 million pounds of tea in a single voyage – equivalent to 200 million cups. “Cutty Sark” travelled across the world, sailing under both the Red Ensign and the Portuguese flag, visiting every major port in the world through the course of her working life. She carried cargoes ranging from the finest teas to gunpowder – and from wool to whisky to buffalo horns.

Her sailing history is replete with incredible challenges and amazing triumphs – and a whole spectrum of men and masters. Fittingly, of all her fellow “greyhounds of the sea”, as the clippers came to be called, she alone survived…
One of her most enigmatic crew members was Tony Robson, her cook. He was found as a baby quite alone on a raft in mid ocean. For all we know he might have been born a prince or a beggar but he grew up in English sailing ships to become a fine seaman and first-class cook.

In 1872 “Cutty Sark”, laden with tea and returning to England along with other clippers, demonstrated just what she was made of. She’d lost her rudder in a gale in the Indian Ocean when she was 400 miles ahead of her great rival “Thermopylae”. A jury rudder was constructed from spare spars, the ironwork forged in the open while heavy seas swept the deck. The time lost meant that “Thermopylae” just reached London first, but “Cutty Sark”‘s magnificent feat of seamanship has gone down as an epic tale of the age of sail.

But they were not all glory days. In 1880 there was what has become known as her “hell ship voyage”. Captain Wallace had the misfortune to ship Sidney Smith, a “bucko” mate (one who enforces discipline with his fists); an incompetent and provocative seaman called John Francis and a croaker of doom named Vanderdecken – all in the same voyage. She became a very unhappy ship. Smith, admittedly under great provocation, struck Francis and killed him. Mutiny was near breaking out but the captain succeeded in keeping order and placed Smith under arrest in his cabin. Wallace made for the port of Anjer where the mate escaped ashore by night. This incensed the crew and so preyed on Wallace’s mind that he ended his life four days after leaving Anjer by jumping overboard into shark-infested waters. His body was never found. The rest of the voyage was made even more miserable by her replacement commander, Captain Bruce, who was a bully and a drunk.

In 1885, the most successful Master to ever command “Cutty Sark” came aboard, Captain Woodget. His skill lay as a successful man-manager and fearless navigator, getting the best out of both the ship and his crew. With his bushy whiskers and booming voice he was a larger-than-life character, brandishing the revolver he took on all his trips if his crew were slow to get his drift!

Woodget was also renowned for breeding prize collies and rearing them aboard “Cutty Sark”. He let no one tend them but himself and never allowed them off the poop at sea.

In order to catch the Roaring Forties trade winds, Woodget travelled further south than any previous master. “Cutty Sark” often dodged icebergs around Cape Horn – and encountered some of the most violent storms and seas on earth. But she survived and thrived. Woodget was a real driver and nothing could match her in these seas.

Woodget was a keen photographer and he took many striking images of the ship passing icebergs as well as shots of her in Sydney harbour.

On his first voyage in command, the ship sailed from England to Sydney in 77 days, and returned to the UK from Australia in 73 days. This was the start of 10 years domination by “Cutty Sark” in the wool trade. The ship soon established herself as the fastest vessel to make the English January wool sales.

However, as steam-ships moved further into the wool trade in the 1890s, “Cutty Sark” began to make less money for her owner and she was sold to a Portuguese firm. Renamed “Ferreira” she spent the next two decades carrying various cargoes. Then came a career as a stationary training ship moored in Falmouth.

Sadly, the ship then fell into disrepair and was almost scuttled. HRH Prince Philip and Frank Carr, the then director of the National Maritime Museum, determined she should not face such an ignominious end and formed a committee to save her. After much work and tireless fund-raising she finally came to rest in a purpose-built dry dock in Greenwich, and was officially opened to the public by the Queen in 1957.

But in the early years of the 21st century it was apparent that her wrought iron frame was deteriorating badly and she needed considerable work to ensure her future viability. With the completion of the latest conservation project, this has now been achieved and she is safe for generations to come. The Queen officially opened the new “Cutty Sark” complex yesterday – and today she re-launches to the public!

“The Log of the Cutty Sark”
By Basil Lubbock
Published by Brown, Son & Ferguson

Alfred Basil Lubbock was born in 1876. He wrote extensively on maritime matters, particularly the latter days of sail. He sailed in several full-rigged ships himself.

John Masefield said of Lubbock: “He is honoured throughout the seven seas as one who wrote the history of the sailing ship as she was in the generations of her greatest splendour just before she ceased to be.”

“The Log of the Cutty Sark”, first published in 1924, is a unique history compiled from her log books, captains’ abstracts and other sources. It is universally regarded as the definitive book on the ship – and was the inspiration for one of Joseph Conrad’s novels.

In a passage all mariners will nod in agreement at, Lubbock wrote of the ship: “If her wonderful speed is her chief claim to fame, she had many other characteristics, which we must not neglect; for a sailing ship has a character, which is just as complex as that of a human being, and it is this that gives a peculiar fascination and everlasting interest to those who have the handling of her. She has her moods, her days of sweet reasonableness and her days of bad temper and sulks. Again she has her likes and dislikes, being responsive to every action of one man, whilst to another she will prove as obstinate as a jibbing horse.”

In addition to a number of rare old photographs, there is an appendix with scantlings and sizes of her standing and running rigging. Julian treasures this evocative volume of his uncle’s old ship.

We have a copy of the book up for grabs, see CONTESTS.

Other Lubbock titles are available from Brown, Son & Ferguson Ltd

A ?50 million restoration project that began in 2004 has seen every inch of the 143-year-old vessel painstakingly conserved and pieced back together. In one of the most complex conservation projects ever undertaken on a historic ship, the ship has been raised by 11 ft onto new steel supports designed to relieve the stress that was threatening to tear apart the ageing iron frame and wooden hull.

Despite a fire in 2007, nearly 90 per cent of the fabric and fittings on the ship are from the original vessel.

The ship’s weather deck and rigging have been painstakingly restored to their original specification, with 11 miles of rigging supporting the masts.

For the first time, “Cutty Sark” can be seen from below, in a new glass-roofed visitor centre that has been built beneath the ship in the dry dock.

HRH Prince Philip once said of “Cutty Sark”: “Just as Nelson’s ‘Victory’ commemorates the men and ships of the old sailing Navy, so should Woodget’s ‘Cutty Sark’ be kept as a permanent memorial to the sailing merchantmen who were the backbone of British supremacy at sea for so many hundreds of years.”

Over the years more than 13 million people have visited this iconic ship. May it be so for many generations to come.

The “Cutty Sark” website is <http://www.rmg.co.uk/cuttysark/
Go there!

To go into the hat for a chance to win “The Log of the Cutty Sark” name the designer/builder of “Cutty Sark”.

Emails to admin@julianstockwin.com Please include full postal address. Deadline: May 25. First correct entry out of the hat wins!
Congratulations to the two winners last month: Sally Tedler and Ash Townsend.

Browse Julian’s website at http://www.julianstockwin.com/

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