The Cutty Sark
was a sailing ship
: more precisely she was a tea clipper
and the fastest ship in the world
. In the 19th Century
, the trade in tea
was one of the major force
s driving the world economy
. The saying that the British empire
was built on cups on tea
is not completely facetious
, as the tea trade helped bring in the vast fortune
s which were needed to fund the Empire.
Whoever was able to bring the new season's crop of tea back to Britain before their competitors was guaranteed instant riches, and the wealth to be obtained was only increased by the fact that enormous bets would be laid, wagering which company's ships would return to England first. For a while the cream of shipbuilding technology was diverted away from the navy and towards building super-fast merchant vessels, the tea clippers.
Launched in 1869 from the world-class Scottish shipyards, The Cutty Sark rapidly became the ultimate tea clipper. Fairly small, but sleek and bristling with sails, the Cutty Sark was the ideal ship to harness the trade winds round the Cape of Good Hope and onwards through the Indian Ocean to China, and made her name a legend as the fastest ship to ever sail that route.
Unfortunately within months of her launch the Suez Canal was opened, meaning that journey time to the far east could be cut by more than half. Ships were no longer reliant on the annual trade winds and the Cutty Sark spent most of the next 50 years in the less frantic wool trade with Australia.
Shortly before the outbreak of World War 2 the Cutty Sark came into the possession of the Royal Naval Training College at Greenwich. From there she was transferred to dry dock where she stands to this day. The Cutty Sark is now one of London's most popular tourist attractions and seeing this sailing ship, a relic from a bygone era, is still an amazing sight.