The whole project has been mired in controversy, mainly to do with the decision to lift the vessel about eight feet above the ground rather than allowing her keel to rest upon it; and also the doughnut-shaped glass surround which quite seriously obscures the bottom section of the hull, it must be said. These and other criticisms were summarised in a vitriolic piece by the journalist Andrew Gilligan last weekend. While he raised some good points, the whole piece was rather bitter and ranty, rather spoiling whatever case he was trying to make.
So was he right? I can see his point about the “doughnut”. But I think it’s a bold idea, well executed. It will be a Marmite issue, I think. How about the lifting of the hull? The argument is that it undermines the integrity and possibly even irreparably damages the vessel. Again it is a bold move, but in my opinion wholly successful. Let’s face it, the ship isn’t going to sail anywhere ever again. Is it likely that leading structural engineers would design a rig that was likely to break the boat? Unlikely. Time will tell, of course, but I reckon we’re okay.
Once aboard, everywhere you look, the boat is gorgeous. The conservators have done a great job but more importantly the curators have excelled at the way they have used tea-chest and wool sack motifs, designs and lettering to tell the clipper’s story. This is how 21st Century museum display and curating is done. Sometimes it doesn’t work, often it does. Certain people of the anorak tendency might not like it. But I believe the public at large, including historians, and certainly including me – will love it.
Cutty Sark was built in 1869. Her heyday lasted only about 25 years, first shipping tea from China and then wool from Sydney. She then spent the same amount of time again as a re-named Portuguese transporter between Europe, Africa and the Americas. She was brought to Greenwich in 1952.
Cutty Sark is open to the public from 26 April.
Admission to Cutty Sark is £12 adult, £6.50 children. Family tickets available. More information and booking.