Cutty Sark Blog
I don’t know about you, but for me the saga of the Cutty Sark’s restoration has been, so far, to quote a cliche, a bit of a roller-coaster for me. I started out hugely excited about the project, keen to get involved (though the opportunities for individuals who could only donate moderate amounts of cash were pretty limited) and really happy to follow what was going on.
I was as gutted as – well, the ship herself, in May 2007 when the fire swept through her hull. I was even more keen to help, though once again it was harder than it could have been for local people to get involved; everything seemed to be directed from On High.
Then we went through the Dark Sark Ages, where we got – nothing. The little hedgehog visitor centre, pock-marked and pitted from the hot ash, disappeared overnight and things went very quiet indeed.
A literal window was opened for a short while when they opened a teeny tiny shop and viewing area which kept very odd hours indeed. There was nothing to see, of course, as the poor old girl’s rusted ribs were all still shrouded in plastic, but the shop was good (I was particularly impressed with the £9.99 model ship). Then that closed too.
Rumours reached me, that I could not substantiate, that there was mutiny over money and techniques. I tried writing to the Trust on several occasions but got no reply at all. None of the accusers would go on the record to tell me, or anyone else, as far as I understand, what was happening, but the chief engineer finally went on record with an engineering magazine then resigned. Andrew Gilligan had a good old go at getting some news, but until he wrote something in the Telegraph, I don’t know that he got much more joy with the Trust than I did. The ‘news’ section on the website lay fallow.
Those were the dark days.
Then we got news that yet more money was being sunk into the project and it would be finished by 2012 (one thing to be thankful for the Olympics coming here; there’s no way we’d have got that cash if saggy plastic awnings and high wooden hoardings in the centre of Greenwich weren’t going to be a major embarrassment to the games) and the project seemed to get a new lease of life.
I still can’t work out whether or not the ship will be damaged any more by raising it up than just letting it sink down into the dry dock – I mean – let’s face it, she hasn’t been seaworthy for yonks and she’s never going to be seaworthy again.
The open letter to the Telegraph in response to Andrew Gilligan’s article back in February doesn’t really address the structural damage issues raised by the chief engineer, but it does claim that the ship has to be raised to stop her slumping into oblivion ( they don’t mention that the space underneath will be a fine revenue raiser – something I don’t object to if it will keep her looked after this time.)
Perhaps now, though, we just need to cut our losses and accept that we will, in 2012 (I have no doubt of it – if it doesn’t happen then, it never will) have a very beautiful, slightly pastichey maritime centrepiece in Greenwich. I confess I’d rather have the Cutty Sark here in pretty much any condition than not have her at all.
We will probably never know what went on with the previous management (the Feb letter reminds us that there is a new management team on board) but I think now is time to get behind the project again. They have started putting proper news on the noticeboard outside, I see:
And it has exciting news – the stern is back. Why the hell they haven’t been absolutely trumpeting this sort of thing to the media – I don’t necessarily expect them to tell little local bloggers – but surely this would have made quite a news story for BBC London (or did I miss it? I certainly can’t find anything in the BBC’s search engine, but then that’s no real surprise) or the local papers. Perhaps there was some kind of embargo on news so that the Dan Snow docco that was screened a few month ago had an exclusive.
I did a bit of peering through the holes in the gates over the weekend, and at last, the Cutty Sark is beginning to look like a ship again. There are bits I recognise, all restored (we have to assume that they’ve been restored. we have no evidence of any other outcome) and the plastic roof has been raised high enough to be able to see stuff going on. And the Ship’s Blog at last seems to be current and newsy, though there are no archives (for, I suspect, fairly obvious reasons.)
I could carry on being grumpy about this – as locals, a lot of us have felt a bit left out of the project so far – but I can’t help feeling the time for sulking has gone. Whatever happened or didn’t happen, it’s done (or not done) now. There is money (currently, perhaps David Cameron will claw it back later today in his much-publicised scary cuts) to finish the Cutty Sark to a standard that will at least have her looking good. She may even look great. We can’t know what’s underneath, but whatever it is, it can’t be changed now – and hey – it could be done to a good standard. We don’t know.
I’m not expecting everyone to agree with me. All I know is that I saw those little glimpses of her stern at the weekend and I felt a little ripple of excitement. She’s coming back, and I feel good for that.
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