Last September we posted about an article in the Telegraph, Cutty Sark restoration turning into a fiasco. Thanks to Alaric Bond for passing on an update recently published in the Private Eye. The restoration of the Cutty Sark, after a major fire in 2007, was supposed to be completed by 2009. Currently, it appears that the renovation will be completed no earlier than 2012. The project is also over-budget and there is a real concern that the “restoration” will do permanent and serious damage to the historic ship.
CUTTY SARK’S BERTH PAINS
What concerns many nautical experts is not so much the slowness of the restoration as its insensitiveness and incompetence. Their biggest worry is a madcap scheme – dreamed up by the architect Nicholas Grimshaw – to suspend the ship on steel beams 11 feet above its berth, creating a glass-roofed space directly beneath the hull. In the words of the official website, this is “a new and vastly improved offering for corporate events or private functions… A unique experience for you and your guests, the dry berth will also include AV system, screen and a stage available for use if required, making the party planning much easier for the host!”
Fab news for party-planners, perhaps; but have the feelings of the Cutty Sark herself been considered?
Hoisting her three metres above the dry dock will cause huge inward pressure which will have to be counteracted by new steel frames inside and outside the ship. A lift is also being installed for disability access, which requires yet more super-stiff bracing. As Classic Boat magazine points out, ships like this “were built to flex in the motion of the sea; they were not built for a lift where the guide track requires absolute stability to work”. To achieve that stability, more than a fifth of the original planks must be either removed or hacked about to accommodate the steelwork.
The project has been an unending saga of cock-ups. One early idea was to immerse the ship in an electrolytic solution to remove the rust; this had to be abandoned when it transpired that the rust was what was holding the old frames together. As a cost-cutting measure, the trust used glass-fibre bolts on the replanking – which, being too weak to stand the strain, immediately started shearing.
And still the cock-ups continue. The trust recently spent £1m on recycled teak for the deck. The specification was for planks 3.5 inches by 5 inches, at lengths ranging from 18ft to 36ft, “machined to a decking profile”. The correct sizes were vital to ensure that deck planks matched up with bolt holes in the iron frames; but when the timber arrived much of it turned out to be 5 inches thick, of random width, and at lengths between 6ft and 8ft. Since the project managers had signed off on the delivery and pronounced themselves satisfied, they couldn’t ask for a refund when a visiting shipwright pointed out the mistake. They now have £1m of teak sitting uselessly at an airfield in Wiltshire. One possibility being discussed is to hire roofing contractors to build a ply roof where the deck should be and then cover it with a thin layer of teak like a cheap veneer – “the Disneyland version”, as one disgruntled mariner puts it.
The finances have been equally erratic: an initial costing of £35m has swelled to £46m. The project managers, Balfour Beatty’s subsidiary Heery International, were removed last year following an audit by the construction consultancy, Gardiner and Theobald – and replaced as project managers by, er, Gardiner and Theobald. Neither of these companies has any discernible expertise in restoring grade I listed ships: their normal line of business is “infrastructure projects”.
The same is true of Büro Happold, the structural engineers, who boast on their website of “a real passion for the built environment” but only in relation to art galleries in Abu Dhabi or specialist schools in the UK – and of Grimshaw, the architects, who can design you a snazzy office-block or arts centre but seem rather short of maritime know-how. Astonishingly no naval architect or shipwright is overseeing the restoration – which may explain why more emphasis is placed on creating an “iconic” leisure venue than on giving the old girl a sympathetic refit.
It’s also why Greenwich council stumped up an extra £7m five months ago. Justifying this extravagance, at a time of budget cuts elsewhere, council leader Chris Roberts raved that “the difference between the iconic scheme the council has supported and simply putting the ship back together as was could not be greater”. Indeed – the main difference being that in the view of most experts his iconic scheme will damage the fabric of the ship.
The project’s chief engineer, Professor Peter Mason, resigned last December when he discovered how much stress would be placed on the Cutty Sark by hoisting her above the new corporate-events space. “I actually resigned a year ago, and was persuaded to stay on,” he told Classic Boat, “but I can’t be part of this now.” Who can blame him?