The iconic clipper ship Cutty Sark has come back to life in her new all-weather Greenwich dry dock on the eastern edge of London, not far from where tea clippers once brought cargos of tea into the warehouses of the East India Company. Her journey here was not without incident, and we are fortunate to have an opportunity to once again walk the decks of this proud ship. I spent several hours exploring this great maritime treasure chest a few months ago.
Britain’s most famous and only surviving tea clipper was built in Scotland in 1869 and set sail on her first commercial voyage to China in 1870, loaded with wines, spirits and beer. Once those had been unloaded in Shanghai, the hold was repacked with 1450 tons of tea, which was landed in London later that year.
Tea clippers were designed to hold as many chests of Chinese tea as possible. Every inch of space was filled tightly with 300-pound wooden chests bearing historic Chinese tea names such as gunpowder, hyson, congou, singlo or souchong. These same teas were being drunk in Boston in the colonial era, a century before the Cutty Sark was launched.