Was the Cutty Sark dead before she burned?


Belem – the ship Adam Nicolson will never forget.
Photo via the Wikipedia Commons and taken by Georges Jansoone

There’s an interesting and highly opinionated feature article in yesterday’s The Guardian that made me stop and think, and may interest many readers of intheboatshed.net.

Article author Adam Nicolson compares the static state of Britain’s great old sailing ships – HMS Victory, HMS Warrior and of course Cutty Sark imprisoned in its dry dock at Greenwich – with the French cocoa boat Belem, which still sails regularly with the support of a substantial financial trust.

As he writes about his experience of sailing on the Belem, it’s clear that she made a huge impression on him; he says he would have wept if it had been the Belem that burned instead of the Cutty Sark.

To him, the difference is that the sailing Belem is alive, while the non-sailing museum-piece Cutty Sark is effectively dead.

He goes on to write rapturously about a Norse-derived traditional boat built for him by Hebridean boatbuilder John MacAulay, and to propose that the UK needs a ‘necklace’ of boat sheds around our coast, each building and restoring the boats of its area. People would learn to sail and use the boats, and, no doubt, build and restore them.

I couldn’t agree more – but that’s not to say we should let the Cutty Sark go after all these years, for she still remains precious as the last of the clipper ships. Instead, let’s hope with Nicolson, that the tragedy of the Cutty Sark will be ‘the spur that will bring our relationship to the sea and its past alive again’.

Related intheboatshed.net posts

John MacAulay, Hebridean boatbuilder with an interesting theory

Sad news of the Cutty Sark

External links

The Wikipedia on the Belem
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