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The Cutty Sark

Address Cutty Sark Gardens, King William Walk [by Greenwich Pier].
Hours Daily: 10.00-17.00 Last admission: 16.30
Closed: 24, 25, 26 Dec
Charges Adults: £3.90 Children (5--16) &
Concessions £2.90
Greenwich Card
School parties: One accompanying adult free with every 10 children.
Complimentary admission: 13 & 26 November; 5 December.
Corporate hire: 020 8858 2698.
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The Cutty Sark, the most famous tea clipper ever built and the only one still in existence, was built in 1869 at Dunbarton on the Clyde in Scotland. Her name, meaning “short chemise”, comes from the poem “Tom O’Shanter” by Scotland’s national hero, Robbie Burns, and her figurehead represents the witch clasping the tail of Tom’s horse.

This majestic three-masted, square-rigged vessel is lovingly preserved (by The Maritime Trust) as a museum in dry-dock in Greenwich: her main mast towers 152 feet [46m] above her deck and her length is 212 feet [65m]. Many a schoolchild in Britain has explored her decks, inspected her restored cabins and held the wheel that steered her across the world’s great oceans.

Her sleek lines and huge mast area were designed for speed: in the year of her launch, she took part in a famous race with the Thermopylae--and was leading by some 400 miles [650 km] when she lost her rudder in a gale in the southern Indian Ocean.

Every day a canon is fired on her deck at precisely 1300 hours--a reminder to tourists and residents alike that it’s time for lunch.

An audiovisual presentation evokes the former days of glory of this marvel of our maritime past--and on display in the lower hold is Britain’s finest collection of merchant ships’ figureheads.

Ironically, at the very time the Cutty Sark was being built, a French nobleman--Ferdinand de Lesseps--was sowing the seeds of her obsolescence. His visionary ten-year project to build the Suez Canal was completed in the year of her launch, shortening the journey to the Far East and robbing British tea clippers such as the Cutty Sark of their former profits. They continued to bring wool from Australia but were unable to match the larger--albeit slower--four- and five-masted sailing ships. So as this wonderful ship--the greatest of its day--first took to the water, the age of sail was already fading.

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