Cutty Sark Tall Ships Story by Terry Cummins (Irish Naval Association)
What have the Gangster Legs Diamond, the Tall Ship Cutty Sark and Captain William McCoy got in common? The answer begins in the year 1869 at a ship yard in Scotland with the completion of a new Clipper expected to be the fastest Tall Ship afloat when launched. The only thing still remaining is the name for this beautiful tall ship. A name suggested was Cutty Sark from the poem by the Scottish Poet Robert Burns.What is "Cutty Sark" you may ask? Well Cutty Sark in the Scottish language means short shirt and the poem tells the story of the man riding his horse through the country side on a dark stormy night after a heavy night's drinking at the local Inn. As he drew near the old Church he heard the sound of Bagpipes coming from the graveyard. Stopping to have a closer look he saw a group of very ugly witches dancing to the sound of the Bagpipes. From a tomb came a witch who was both very young and very beautiful and she too danced to the bagpipes. She was dressed in a very short shirt (cutty sark) and danced very provocatively, coming closer to the horseman. He got carried away with the frenzy of the dancing girl and shouted at her "good girl Cutty Sark". At that moment there was a flash of lightning followed by total darkness. Frightened out of his wits the horseman raced off in terror only to see the witches chasing after him with Cutty Sark in the lead.He remembered that witches cannot cross water so he headed for the bridge. As he was about to cross the bridge Cutty Sark caught up with him and grabbed the horses tail. Fortunately, the tail gave way from the horse leaving Cutty Sark on the far side of the bridge. Looking back the horseman saw Cutty Sark with arms outstretched clutching the horses tail.
The ship owner liked the story so he called his ship "Cutty Sark" and ordered a model of the witch to be placed in the bow of the ship. These large ships were built for speed, the first to arrive back in the UK from Australia with wool captured the valuable market that awaited them. In fact the record set by the Cutty Sark i.e. 69 days - Australia to England, remains unbroken to the present day. When Cutty Sark broke a speed record the apprentices on board fashioned a horses tail from rope and placed it in the hand of Cutty Sark in the bow of the ship.In the 1920's The Cutty Sark's days were numbered as steam rather than sail became the order of the day. The cutty sark was sailing under the Portugese Flag until bought by a retired British Sea Captain in 1926. Much was made of her return to Britain as thousands turned out to see this beautiful Tall Ship sailing back into home waters after many years away. It made headlines in all the papers.
One man reading the newspaper about the return of Cutty Sark was Mr. Francis Berry, senior partner of Berry Bros. a large wine and spirit manufacturer who was pondering on a name for his new high quality Whiskey, about to be launced onto the UK market. He decided that as the Cutty Sark was on everyones mind he would call his Whiskey "Cutty Sark Scots Whisky" and had the bottle labelled with the a picture of the Cutty Sark Tall Ship on the label. The Whiskey became very popular and a market leader within a very short space of time.
Legs Diamond the notorious American Gangster also thought it an excellent whiskey.
Back to the Tall Ships again, we look to 1956 and the sad reality that more and more of these fine Tall Ships were disappearing. Bernard Morgan a London Solicitor had the idea of bringing the surviving square-rigged tall ships together for a race. He obtained the support of Earl Mountbatten and other influential people in the sailing world. This resulted in a spectacular race from Torbay to Lisbon in 1956. This was the start of the now familar "Tall Ships Race" today an annual event with as many as 135 vessels participating. Not all are square riggers but it is an impressive sight to see the convoy of very large square-rigged ships dwarfing the other yachts in the area.
It was with great pride that Dublin was host to the last leg of the tall ships race 1998.