Good news from the Cutty Sark restoration

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Cutty Sark counter being lifted

The delicate wrought iron stern of the Cutty Sark was successfully raised
last week to allow work on the ship’s structure below to proceed

The Cutty Sark Conservation people kindly sent me this update a few days ago. As you’ll see, it slightly predates the successful lift of the stern section pictured above.

Like most people who have lived in London, I’ve very fond of the Cutty Sark, and I find the news very heartening!

There will be a major step forward in the Cutty Sark Conservation project tomorrow when the counter, a large part of the stern, located at the back of the ship, is removed for electrolysis and repair.

The removal of this delicate and large wrought iron structure counter was part of the original conservation plan which was in place before the fire broke out last May and its removal marks a major step forward in the project which aims to be completed by Spring 2010.

The Cutty Sark Conservation project is firmly back on track following a generous £10m grant from Heritage Lottery Fund received in January this year.

The conservation project will not only to secure the physical fabric of the ship but also to ensure that she is re-displayed in an appropriate manner for the 21st century. When the project is completed the ship will be raised almost three metres above her current position, allowing visitors for the first time to appreciate fully the beauty of her hull form, as well as using the latest technologies in sound and light to bring the stories of the ship to life.

Before the fire, Cutty Sark was a quarter of the way through a £25 million conservation project, which had been on target for completion in 2009. The fire caused a major set back in the schedule, with millions of pounds worth of additional costs incurred.

However, despite the fire, the Trust did not stop the conservation work. Fabric which had already been removed has been worked upon and since the Trust has been able to access the ship again, more planking has been taken off for consolidation and it the conservation programme on the iron framework has started again.

What damage did the fire do?

* The fire on 21 May 2007 burnt through all three decks and destroyed all the building structures, services and tools that were on the ship at the time.
* Amazingly, we learned very quickly that less than 2 per cent of the fabric from her working life as a sailing ship has been lost. We are remarkably lucky –
Cutty Sark is still here.
* At the time of the fire, the ship’s masts, gear and deckhouses and saloon, along with half of the historic planking had been removed for conservation or storage.
* Of the remaining planks only a few were badly damaged and even so we have been able to remove the charring so they can be rehung.
* More importantly, we found out that the ship’s iron frame has not distorted significantly so we can complete the overall project vision to lift the ship 3m above her current position to allow visitors to walk under her uniquely shaped hull.
* We can pursue our active treatments for corrosion, stress and wear and tear.
* It added £10 million to the project cost to make the final cost £35 million.

When will the ship reopen?

We aim to reopen in Spring 2010.

What’s been going on on-site in the meantime?

* Momentum on the project has been sustained since the fire. Now for the first time since she was built, the iron frame is fully exposed as 85 per cent of the hull planks are now off. 45 planks on port side and 38 on starboard side remain out of total of 528. Conservation has been completed on 160.

* Over 75 per cent of the ship has now been cleaned with a wet abrasive process exposing foundry marks not seen since 1869. The bowsprit, rudder, and saloon framework have been removed for conservation. The poop has been raised to expose the metal work underneath. Scaffolding is in place to remove the counter at the top stern end in its entirety to carry out vital electrolysis to remove corrosive salts. Straightening of fire-damaged metalwork is progressing to plan.

What will the future Cutty Sark look like?

* The ship will be raised three metres above its current position and suspended in a steel cradle so visitors can walk beneath her – unique in the world. This solves the problems of stress on the keel.
* There will be a stunning glass canopy meeting the ship at the waterline and covering the dry dock.
* There will be a new entrance at the stern end through the glass canopy – this leaves the Cutty Sark Gardens side of the ship completely unimpeded and thus a breathtaking introduction to the World Heritage site from the river and DLR station.
* The ship will be fully conserved, and represented with authentic paint colours and new Muntz metal hull sheathing (brass alloy).
* Inside, original structures will be revealed and the decks restored to the original configuration. We are using authentic materials including reclaimed 19th century teak.
* The new auditorium will be sited on a suspended ‘lilypad’ floor between the tween deck and lower hold. This will be the location for dramatic insights into the past using live story-tellers in the characters of the people who made Cutty Sark’s history such as her owner Jock ‘White Hat’ Willis, and her most famous and successful captain, Captain Woodget. Others will be the unsung heroes and heroines such as members of the crew or the families they left behind in port.
* Other key galleries will use the latest multimedia to create atmospheric and memorable visits where you can learn the fascinating aspects of the ship’s history: the Tea Story, the Australia Story, Cutty Sark Today, Conservation and Science of Shipbuilding, her impact on art and popular culture.

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