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“Cutty Sark”


During her latest restoration programme in 2007, I was rather upset when I heard on the radio that the Clipper ship “Cutty Sark” had been badly damaged by a fire. When I saw the extent of the damage on the T.V. I just couldn’t believe what had happened to such a beautiful ship. Like others who were upset at what had happened, you may wonder why I had an interest. All will be revealed by the story I have to tell and the memories that I have.

The “Cutty Sark” was built on the Clyde in 1869, sailing under the command of Captain George Moodie. The ship 212 feet long, 36 feet beam and 963 tons: very strongly built, and square rigged (sails) on her three masts. Latterly the lower half of her hull was copper sheathed. “Cutty Sark” was a very fast ship, originally running tea from China, thence on the wool trade from Australia.

In 1933, she became a training ship on the Thames.

We move forward to 1952, when the Cutty Sark Preservation Society was formed to take over the “Cutty Sark”, it was established as a Memorial to the Merchant Navy, especially to the ships and seamen who were lost in the two world wars.

The ship was re-conditioned and placed in a permanent dry dock in Greenwich in 1957, not far from the famous Maritime Museum. She looked absolutely splendid.

The story I have to tell starts here, the year being early 1947.

Coming home from school, I surprised my parents by saying “I am going to join the Merchant Navy". I nor my parents had any idea what to do, so had to fish round for advice. One didn’t start his career by being Captain of the “Queen Mary”!!! One started at the bottom rung of the ladder as a cadet and it took many years at sea, a lot of studying before reaching the dizzy heights.

However we found out that, in 1947, I was too young to go to sea, and it was suggested that I go to a Nautical Training Ship for two years. I joined the T.S. “Worcester” at Greenhithe in Kent, and what a pleasant surprise, on boarding, to find the Cutty Sark was moored about 100 feet from the “Worcester”! A wonderful sight.

Although there was no sailing ships still working at sea we still had to learn the rigs of the various types of old sailing ships, also educated, with the aid of the “Cutty Sark”, on masts, rigging, launching lifeboats, and other chores carried out by the sailors of by gone days. Polishing brass, painting where necessary, renewing and splicing various ropes, and numerous other minor repairs. Even to this day I can still splice ropes and wires. Every cadet on the training ship was made to climb to the top of the highest mast. This stood me in good stead when I went to sea; if a bulb went in a mast-head light, or a flag halyard parted, it was the cadet’s job to climb the mast and rectify the fault. Not pleasant in a force 8 gale. However, I don’t think, at my present age, I could climb a mast, I would be too scared!!!

In 1949, I joined my first ship as a cadet, and knew right away that I had chosen the right career.

Settling down, during my career, I sailed aboard both cargo and passenger ships. However during this time, I sailed on two splendid cargo ships that the Company had specially built for the Australian wool trade. These were beautiful ships, and like “Cutty Sark”, built on the Clyde. However, I think we had it easier than the seamen of old, especially when the weather was inclement!

I qualified for my Master’s Certificate in 1960.

In 1970 I had to have a spell ashore for medical reasons, and during my recuperation I was offered a position of Assistant Harbour Master at Grangemouth. In 1973, I was asked to take over the Harbour Master’s position in the three ports of Methil, Kirkcaldy and Burntisland. I enjoyed this position very much and even more so when I noted that the Merchant Fleet of Britain was being decimated.

Some one mentioned to me that my photograph was in Methil Heritage Centre, but I can’t confirm this. Why me? I really don’t know.

In 1987, the management said “You are finished Captain, we don’t need a Harbour Master anymore” I was devastated, probably as equally devastated when I heard about the “Cutty Sark” fire, but I will never forget that beautiful ship and the time I spent on board.


                                                                        Captain I.C. Bayliss


Key Ring, made from the  foremast of the "Cutty Sark" and given to Captain Bayliss by a friend.