Cutty Sark

Delivering the goods
Cutty Sark

CUTTY SARK had been sold in 1895 and renamed FERREIRA, after the Lisbon-based company that bought her. Since then, she had been tramping between the Portuguese colonies in Africa, South America, the southern United States and Portugal.   

When FERREIRA arrived in the Mozambique  port of Laurenço Marques (now Maputo) in October 1915, Portugal was not officially at war. Nevertheless, it was clear that war was coming – there had already been clashes with German troops in Angola. One part of the preparations was to conscript merchant seamen into naval service. In Laurenço Marques, Captain Frederic Vincenzo da Sousa faced the colonial authorities demanding the transfer of FERREIRA’s entire crew to the Portuguese navy, although he managed to reduce the demand to nine reservists, leaving him with six apprentices, a cook and two foreign sailors. Da Sousa eventually managed to recruit a number of keen but non-seafaring locals and a couple of fishermen, making his crew up to 18. It was too few for a ship of this size but it was all he could muster.

It had taken da Sousa months to assemble this crew and FERREIRA did not sail until late April 1916 (Germany declared war on Portugal the previous month, precipitated by the seizure of German and Austro-Hungarian ships in Portuguese ports).  The ship was laden with coal, bound for Mossamedes (now Namibe) in Angola. On 1st May 1916, off the South African coast between Port Elizabeth and East London FERREIRA ran into heavy weather. It gradually worsened until the winds were reaching Force 10. The new seamen were, understandably, terrified and of little use in such conditions. Then the ship rolled right to port, her lower yard arms dipping into the water. And she stayed like that – because perhaps as much as 20 tons of her coal cargo had not been loaded properly and had shifted. With the aid of a single hurricane lantern, the apprentices spent the whole day shovelling the cargo to get the ship back on an even keel. They succeeded but the weather did not improve and, on 3rd May, FERREIRA was again listing to port. Captain da Sousa thought it too risky to attempt to make for the nearest port, Port Elizabeth, so all he could do was to send his apprentices back into the hold once more and to hope that the weather would improve. But it did not and, again and again, the coal shifted. Finally it shifted so much that the Captain knew there was no possibility of levelling her. His only chance of saving the ship was to cut away the masts and rigging.  Over the next few days more and more was pitched over the side until all that remained was the foremast and fore-topmast.

On 10th May, the wind finally subsided and, after nine days of wondering if his ship would sink, Captain da Sousa finally felt that, if he could find a ship to tow him, he could reach Cape Town. He managed to make contact with the S.S. KIA ORA, a passenger and cargo steamer, and went aboard to ask for help. Unfortunately KIA ORAwas bound for Sydney, not Cape Town, and her captain was worried about German submarines in the area. He advised da Sousa to scuttleFERREIRA. But the Portuguese captain had come through too much for that. He returned to his vessel. After two more days they were drifting towards Cape Aghulas –  the most southerly point of Africa, notorious for its rogue waves -- and almost certain shipwreck, when another steamer came into view. She took FERREIRA under tow into Table Bay, where she arrived on 14th May.

Captain da Sousa’s log identifies the steamer that rescued his ship as the Blue Funnel Line’s INDRAGHIRA. Launched in Glasgow in 1912, this vessel had joined the ‘Blue-Flue’ fleet in 1915 and was, in fact, then known as EURYLOCHUS. Her own fate was to be sunk in 1941 off Sierra Leone by the German auxiliary cruiser KORMORAN.

The insured value of FERREIRA was only £700 – but the estimate to repair the damage from the storm and the loss of her masts and rigging was put at £2,250. Not only that, the war had created a shortage of suitable wood for replacement masts and yards. Therefore the Ferreira company decided to re-rig her not as a ship but as a barquentine, a vessel with square sails on the foremast but fore-and-aft sails on the main and mizzen masts. Not only did this require fewer yards, it also needed fewer men to work the vessel than a full-rigged ship.

Nevertheless, FERREIRA spent the remainder of 1916 and all of 1917 in Table Bay. Finally, in January 1918, she was towed out of the dock… and promptly collided with the quayside, damaging both her stem and her figurehead. But she was finally back at sea and the last year of the war was largely spent peacefully sailing along the west coast of Africa.

Where is she now?

CUTTY SARK, first restored to her sailing ship appearance, and name, in the 1920s, is now open to the public as part of the Royal Museums Greenwich, London.



Basil Lubbock, The Log of the CUTTY SARK. 1925 

Alan Platt, Simon Waite and Robert T. Sexton, ‘The CUTTY SARK’s second keel and history as the FERREIRA, Mariner’s Mirror 95 (2009): 8-32. John Richardson, CUTTY SARK, FERREIRA. 2007