Rick Spilman

Rick Spilman
Jersey City, New Jersey, USA
March 25
I am the author of a nautical thriller set in the last days of sail, Hell Around the Horn. I also the host of the Old Salt Blog. I have a background in ship operations, banking and corporate communications. I am an avid sailor and kayaker.

APRIL 23, 2012 8:22PM

Mr. Muntz’s Marvelous Metal and the Cutty Sark

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Earlier today we posted about an article¬†by Andrew Gilligan, the¬†Telegraph‚Äės London Editor, in which he referred to the¬†Cutty Sark¬†restoration as ‚Äúa clucking, Grade A, Bernard Matthews-class turkey.‚ÄĚ

For a more positive perspective on the restoration one could turn to the article by the Guardian’s Steve Rose, The Cutty Sark: hoist the main sail!¬† which was mostly sunshine and roses, at least as compared to Mr. Gilligan’s comments.

As a naval architect, I look at the keel of the Cutty Sark, wholly unsupported for its entire length, and I cringe.  They still could have raised the ship up on a structural beam along the length of the keel, supported by widely spaced pillars.  It would have not overly disrupted their corporate party space, whose creation seems to have overtaken the concerns about the structural integrity of the ship.

One point did make me less confident about the reporting done by Mr. Rose. He repeatedly commented on the Cutty Sark‘s “copper” bottom. ¬†The photograph in the Guardian clearly shows a yellow metal sheathing. Yellow copper? ¬†When did copper become¬†yellow?

The metal is not copper. The sheathing on both the original Cutty Sark and the current renovation is Muntz metal, a brass alloy made of 60% copper, 40% zinc and a trace of iron. It was named for George Fredrick Muntz, a metal-roller of Birmingham, England who commercialized the alloy in 1832.  Muntz metal was used as a replacement for copper sheathing on the bottom of ships.  It had the same anti-fouling properties as copper at around two thirds of the price. Muntz metal was also stronger and more durable than copper.

So when Steve Rose writes: “The copper lining of the Cutty Sark’s hull, for example, was a military secret that gave Britain the edge: such boats resisted barnacles, making them faster than their rivals. To maintain the secret, though, only British copper could be used, driving the domestic mining industry,” he is getting both the history and the metal wrong.

Let us all just hope that the engineers who designed the new structure for the Cutty Sark, before hoisting her skyward, manage to get their design right.   Only time will tell.

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