Last Departure, a salty yarn
Gordon Frickers worked at Falmouth as a photographer, learnt ship and boat building at Falmouth Technical College and sailed out of that port many times for five happy years.
During that time he discovered and added to his collection some rare old photographs of Cutty Sark being restored at Falmouth.
This and other paintings were part of the result of that discovery.
The beautifully evocative “Last Departure” painting was for several years honoured to be on display on-board “Cutty Sark“, at the invitation of her then Captain, Simon Waite.
Incidentally, for many years the masters of Cutty Sark at Greenwich were master mariners, retired British India Steam Navigation Company captains as were many of the other officers aboard her.
Besides liking the painting Captain Waite had noticed the ship was ‘spot on’, even the currents of Falmouth Bay and the Falmouth Working Boat (an oyster dredger) were correctly portrayed.
The currents, the working boat and the background were right in part thanks to Gordon’s Cornish friend Patrick Selman a fine traditional sail maker who built his own working boat ‘Agnes’ and took Gordon out into the bay to check details.
Captain Waite wanted “Last Departure” bought for Cutty Sark.
Alas that was not to be, the trustees and the National Maritime Museum missed their opportunity.
Maybe just as well, the painting might have perished when the beautiful Cutty Sark was negligently badly burnt.
This most celebrated of tea clippers after she was sold out of British ownership was for more than half of her sea going career was known as “Ferriera“.
She made her last commercial voyage from London to Lisbon in 1921 with scrap iron.
For 28 years the ex Cutty Sark had sailed as “Ferriera“, Portuguese owned, engineless to the end.
She lost her original square rig in a storm off Cape Town (1912?).
She was ‘self repaired’ meaning her own crew put her back to sea.
She was much loved by her crew who claimed she leaked not one drop to the end.
In 1921 storm damaged again this time in the English Channel, in distress she put into Falmouth where she was repaired by her own crew.
The famous old clipper retained beneath old paint and sea grim her elegant lines, evidence of past glories.
Battered and distressed by age she still attracted hundreds of visitors.
As her working life drew to a close Cutty Sark was put up for sale.
Captain and Mrs Dowman who had retired to Cornwall, saw and visited her when she put into Falmouth in 1921.
When a young man Dowman had seen Cutty Sark in her glory bee days under full sail storming up the English Channel and thought one day to buy the magnificent clipper.
They had already tried to buy the old lady but when the owners discovered they were English an exorbitant price was demanded.
The ship’s visit to Falmouth resulted in a second attempt to buy Cutty Sark, this time via a Portuguese agent.
Purchased, the old clipper was towed to Famouth by the tug Triton and restored in one of the dry docks for use as a training ship.
She never set square sails again but besides youth training was used at Falmouth and Fowey as a regatta Committee boat.
She set fore and aft sails for the last time off the white cliffs of Dover while being towed to Greenwich, London were you can to this day visit and go aboard her.
Do take a visit to Greenwich; besides the charming village and Cutty Sark, you can visit the unrivaled British National Maritime Museum the world’s largest maritime museum, filled with inspirational stories of exploration and endeavour at sea, stand on the Greenwich meridian line, stroll in the park and visit the seaman’s hospitals.
Together this makes for an unforgettable day out particularly if you arrive via the river boat from the Tower of London.
Gordon Frickers first encountered Cutty Sark as a child aged about 7 on a school outing with Brabourne Rise Preparatory School.
In those days the old lady was as smart as any super yacht and still had the scent of China tea below decks…
Many years later he made sure his children experienced London and visited Cutty Sark.
Your best source of further information, “The Log of the Cutty Sark” by Basil Greenhill or ask Gordon Frickers.