Wednesday, July 11, 2007


Cutty Sark renovation echoes British naval history

By Paul Majendie
July 11, 2007

CHATHAM, England - The masts and anchor from the Cutty Sark lie on the quayside in Chatham's historic dockyard ready for renovation. They got lucky.

For large sections of the iconic tea clipper had already been sent to Chatham for repairs before a fire swept through the Cutty Sark in May, leaving the London landmark a charred wreck.

The ship, launched in 1869 on Scotland's River Clyde to make the run to China for the lucrative tea trade, was undergoing a 25 million pound refurbishment when disaster struck.

Fortunately Chatham, where skilled shipwrights created Britain's naval might for 400 years, had already embarked on major renovations to the sailing legend.

The remnants of the Cutty Sark are a poignant and unexpected addition to Chatham Dockyard, now one of the top tourist attractions in southeast England.

Chatham, saw its naval history brought to a close when the dockyard was shut down in 1984, has since been converted into what is billed as the most complete dockyard of the age of sail to survive anywhere in the world.

The quayside where the Cutty Sark sections are being renovated is a microcosm of British naval history with three ships alongside each other in the dry dock recalling the days when Britannia ruled the waves.

Schoolchildren eagerly clamber aboard the sloop the HMS Gannet which was built on the River Medway in 1878 in the heyday of the Victorian Navy which had a worldwide role policing the waters of the British Empire.

Beside her stands HMS Cavalier, one of 96 emergency destroyers built for the Royal Navy during World War Two as escorts for ships like the luxury liners-turned-warships The Queen Mary and the Queen Elizabeth.

A favorite for the endless stream of school parties is a chance to clamber through the hatches and peep through the periscope of the submarine Ocelot, launched in 1962 at the height of the Cold War.

The Ocelot, boasting a Mark 8 torpedo similar to the one that sunk the Argentine warship the Belgrano during the 1982 Falklands War, was the last warship to be built for the Royal Navy at Chatham.

It was all a far cry from Chatham's heyday. From 1700 to the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815, the dockyard built and launched 125 ships ranging from small sloops and brigs to HMS Victory, Admiral Nelson's flagship at the Battle of Trafalgar.


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