The Fastest Sailing Ship Built in Dumbarton

The Cutty Sark was the fastest sailing ship built in Dumbarton in the late nineteenth century. On the 1st of February, 1869 a contract was signed between J. Willis & Son of London, and Scott & Linton for the construction of a composite sailing vessel, thus began the story of Ship No. 5, which on launching became the “Cutty Sark”. The contract stated that the vessel was to be 950-ton, length of keel and fore rake 210 feet, beam 36 feet, depth 20 feet 9 inches, and the price £17.00 per ton not to exceed £16,150.

Worked commenced and the finest materials procured. Best iron for the frames, Canadian Rock Elm for the bottom planking from Canada and North America, East India Teak for the side planking and deck from the steamy forests of Burma. The sail plan designed by John Rennie gave the vessel 29 sails covering the area of some 32,000 sq. feet.

Unfortunately the expense was too great for the builders, they ran short of money and had to go into liquidation, leaving the ship to be completed by Denny Brothers on behalf of the creditors.

The launching of the Cutty Sark took place on November 22nd, 1869, a small group of people assembled at the Dumbarton shipyard to witness the launch of the ship. Amongst the group were the four men responsible for its design and construction, Mr William Scott, shipbuilder; Mr Hercules Linton, designer and naval architect; Mr John Rennie, chief draughtsman; and Mr Henry Henderson, master carpenter. The wife of Captain George Moodie named the ship "Cutty Sark". On December 20th, she was towed to Greenock, where the running rigging was fitted and sails bent on.

She entered the tea trade sailing from London on 16th February, 1870, with Captain Moodie in charge. The tea trade ended for the sailing clipper ships about 1880, when steam ships had become more reliable and were able to use the shorter sea route through the Suez Canal, which had been opened the same week as the launching of the Cutty Sark in 1869.

She then went into the wool trade from Australia, and here proved to be the thoroughbred she really was, beating all comers including her greatest rival the 'Thermopylae'.

In 1922 Captain George Moodie kindly presented his three log books, 1870-1872, as well as his working copy of the agreement for the building of the ship. These documents are still in the possession of the Libraries and Cultural Services department.