Today, the Baron Greenwich and his wife will visit his namesake town and let her announce the opening of the restored Cutty Sark sailing ship after its lengthy, expensive, and very controversial refurbishment.

Yesterday, practically every journalist and blogger in the area was invited for a look around while dodging the last minute preparations and builders finishing off the displays.

There is just one entrance/exit to the ship’s interior which has been cut into the side of the ship’s hull and takes you into the main hold. You are indirectly guided up a flight of stairs to the wide expanse of the middle deck, with its metal roof being just low enough to leave this correspondent perpetually worried about banging his head.

The mid deck

I actually liked that – they kept the height unchanged and unaffected by modern safety concerns. The local shops might do a good trade in headache pills as well, which they might appreciate. Unsurprisingly considering its recent flammable history, there is a lot of very visible fire fighting pipes running all around the ship.

Fire prevention

It is this floor that houses some of the artefacts and displays from the ship’s history, and is also the most spacious area within the ship today.

Heading up to the deck though they have fully restored how the ship would have looked at the time it was in use. Some wooden cages for animals emitted animal sounds and have wooden animals within them. Towards the rear, and you can go down into the officers area, with the captain’s tiny cabin – the size of which may confuse people used to Hollywood representations of a huge room.

At the time of my visit, there was a very strong smell of white paint and frankly, it felt a bit like a 1970s Barratt Home, with almost every wooden surfaced covered in gloss paint. That should fade in a week or two though.

Officers dining room

In quite a few locations there are video screens, and they have quite cleverly built one into the mirror in the dining room, so it almost looks as if you are watching a person chat while facing the mirror.

To get deep back down to the hold means the staircase at the front of the boat, or the lift they have sliced into the heart of the ship.

The hold is probably the most evocative area, being more dimly lit and with the structure of the ship more obviously noticeable here. Packing cases dotted around remind visitors of the ship’s early purpose, and bales of wool its later history, and a mini-cinema offer a chance to sit down.

Packing cases

Having “done the ship”, it’s time to head back out and down into the dock and stand underneath the boat. This is the most controversial aspect, with a decent number of commentators being very concerned about the structural integrity of the ship in this elevated position.

The massive steel piles holding the ship aloft do make it look more like a ship driven by oars than by sails when seen from the front – maybe – if you squint a bit.

The future famous shot

I think the effect works though. It creates the “ohhh!” effect most effectively, and offers them space for the usual corporate events below the ship, as well as space for a cafe at the back.

My main problem is that the rest of the ship left me distinctly underwhelmed. It’s basically just a ship, with a lot of cramped areas to get around and not a lot of heritage on display. Most of the heritage is in the form of video displays rather than actual artefacts.

To put artefacts in the ship would be difficult, and to put them in the dock would reduce its wow-factor, not to mention chance to hire the space out. But I missed them.

Digital displays

Yes, it’s nice to look around, and the dock area is impressive – but I felt rather cold about the overall “museum”. At £12 per adult it is not a cheap place to visit and in order to appreciate a visit, you are going to probably want to linger in the dock for a while – by the cafe, which adds to the cost.

The lower floor

Will it be popular? You bet it will – it’s a huge tourist draw to the area. But, if I had £15 to spend on a visit to Greenwich, then I think I would be heading over to the Royal River exhibition instead.

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5 Comments

  1. Lara

    “Yesterday, practically every journalist and blogger in the area was invited for a look around while dodging the last minute preparations and builders finishing off the displays.”

    Not me. W*nkers. ;-)

    • Me netiher!

  2. Chris

    Nothing annoys me more than agreeing with Andrew Gilligan, but he’s right – its an absolute travesty. If they really did need to support her, which is far from certain and people have resigned over the decision, then they could have done it at the same height she was – no need for the awful greenhouse, allowing the same glass-roof-with-water-on-top affect that the SS Great Briton benefits from and allowing access from the dockside without a huge ugly lift… but no, they wanted a huge conference and hospitality area under her. They’ve cut holes in her, made little effort to hide the modern materials, destroyed any atmosphere he had. In their efforts to ‘save’ old material they’ve destroyed what she she always be – a ship.

  3. Chris

    *what she should always be – a ship (apologies for the spelling mistakes, its got me riled!)

  4. Jimmy

    I’d reply that there are plenty of ships around which one can tour where one has to bend and duck and where many parts are as inaccessible as when they were operational in their prime. This is more for people who don’t like to get their hair wet/hands dirty. The ship is not in itself of huge historical importance, so cutting holes in it to turn it into a clean welcoming accessible museum is a good idea, surely?

    Why anyone is against people being able to walk under it is beyond me. It now sits taller and more proud than ever in historic Greenwich.

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