I was just watching the tv program about the Cutty Sark which will reopen this year ( in time for the Olympics ! ) which is great, great news. The Cutty Sark – named after a witch called Nannie who wore short skirts, was afraid of water and was disturbed partying with her fellow witches and warlocks by Tam O’Shanter  – has a significant place in my life.

As the tv program stated no one has quite worked out why someone would name a ship after a witch that was afraid of water – short skirt or no !!


Cutty Sark was a ” racing ship ” built to race from China to England with tea and beat another ” tea clipper ship ” called Thermopylae. Her most famous race against Thermopylae started on the 18th June ( my birthday ) in 1872. She lost this race due to losing her rudder.

Later she became a  ” wool clipper ” bringing wool from Australia to England and clocking up a record time of 67 days ( and some hours ) beating the fastest steamship of the time in doing so.

This time of 67 days stood until a yacht that I sailed on, Great Britain II , beat it in 1975/6 in ” The Clipper Race”.



GB2 was built for the first Whitbread Round-the-World Race in 1973/4 and was crewed at that time by Royal Marines. In the ” Clipper Race ” she was crewed by a combination of soldiers, sailors and airmen. Interestingly GB2’s main competitor Kriter 2 lost her rudder in the Tasman Sea on the Sydney to London leg of the Clipper Race. I can still remember looking across the stormy sea from GB2 to Kriter as the crew tried to work out what they were going to with no rudder ( which we had actually seen floating away on the waves but could not reach ). We sailed on and they rigged a jury rudder with a spinnaker pole or something. The French have some great sailors. ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Olivier_de_Kersauson was the skipper )

I had joined the Royal Navy in 1975 and managed to get into the crew of GB2 – at 19 the youngest crew member. Although I didn’t think much of it at the time it was quite strange that a boy who learnt to sail and race boats on ” ponds ” in the Midlands got to race one of the most famous yachts in the world in a race against the time set by one of the most famous sailing ships in the world.

Even stranger to think that a year or so earlier I had been sailing on The ” Hellship Captain Scott ” ( now known as the Shabab Oman )

probably the closest thing that you could get to a Tea Clipper in modern days.

My trip around Cape Horn in Great Britain II gained me entry into a rather exclusive club

The International Association of Cape Horners ( I.A.C.H. ).  http://www.capehorners.org/history2.html

A club that once consisted mainly of officers and crew of ” tall ships ” or ” windjammers ” that had sailed around the Horn

but has been widened to include yachtsmen who have sailed around the Horn.

The Cape Horners usually had their Annual General Meeting aboard the Cutty Sark until it’s refurbishment began. Owing to the fire that broke out on the Cutty Sark it has been closed to the Cape Horners for the last 6 years and I don’t know if or when they will return to her.

In 2006 I took the family and my old Captain and his wife ( Admiral Geoff and Mary Marsh ) aboard the Cutty Sark for dinner. Amongst my family members was my Uncle Les who had rebuilt a Bristol Channel Pilot Cutter called Marguerite T. See here for more on Les and Marguerite


It’s interesting to wonder if Marguerite ever met the Cutty Sark at sea….