Historic ship Cutty Sark rises from ashes after $81 million restoration

Story highlights

  • The Cutty Sark will reopen to the public in London this week
  • $81 million has been spent restoring the historic ship
  • The Queen and Prince Phillip will give the vessel their royal blessing
One of Britain's most cherished maritime treasures will complete a miraculous rise from the ashes when it reopens to the public later this week.
The Cutty Sark was devastated by fire in May 2007 but a £50 million ($81 million) restoration project has seen the historic vessel returned to its previous majestic glory.
The 143-year-old vessel is the world's last surviving tea clipper -- a type of nineteenth century merchant sailing ship renowned for its speed -- and was once considered the epitome of commercial maritime technology.
It will receive the royal seal of approval when the Queen and Prince Phillip preside over its reopening ceremony in Greenwich, London, on Wednesday.
As part of the extensive restoration process the vessel has been raised 11 feet (3.3 meters) above ground, with its lower levels encased in a glass casing symbolic of the sea.
This new feature enables visitors to walk underneath the ship, exposing the design and engineering feats that enabled the Cutty Sark to reach what were once record-breaking sailing speeds of 17 and a half knots (20 mph).
"We have raised the ship so she'll be right up there with the best (historic ships)," Richard Doughty, chief executive of the Cutty Sark Trust, told CNN.
"She's a beautiful ship, a name that everybody immediately recognizes," Doughty added. "The fire touched people's hearts (and) you value something when you think you're going to lose it."
Launched from the small town of Dumbarton on the banks of the River Clyde in western Scotland in 1869, the Cutty Sark has a long and colorful history.
The ship carried a wide variety of cargo during its working lifetime -- including the finest teas, wool and gunpowder -- and made frequent journeys between the UK and major trading ports in Asia, Europe, Africa, Australasia and the Americas.
Most of the tea clippers to grace the waves during the same period lasted for only a few years and just seven survived into the twentieth century.
By the mid-1920s, the Cutty Sark was the only one still afloat and in 1954 it was transferred to its current dry-dock site in Greenwich.
Here the vessel became a symbolic memorial to Britain's 19th century maritime and colonial dominance, attracting visitors and maritime enthusiasts from all over the world.
It is this rich historic significance that the restoration project hopes to convey. A number of new hi-tech educational features meanwhile have been added to augment the overall theme.
"She was the fastest of her day, the last remaining tea clipper, emblematic of the importance of international trade and Britain's maritime heritage," said Jessica Lewis, curator