The Cutty Sark Trust is an independent charity which aims to conserve , maintain and display the Cutty Sark, the world's sole surviving tea clipper.

Built in 1869, the ship was fully restored in the 1950s and is permanently installed in a concrete dry dock in Greenwich, London. The Cutty Sark Trust worked with the University of Greenwich to deliver this Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP). The collaboration aimed to transfer finite element analysis skills/technology to help guide the Cutty Sark’s conservation, and to establish this capability within the organisation as a marketable service for other historic ships.

About the project

Structural problems were first identified in the Cutty Sark’s hull in the 1990s, and in 2003, a report predicted that the ship would fall apart within 10 years if no restoration work was carried out. The Cutty Sark Trust knew that a major conservation programme was needed to prevent any further decay in the ship’s structure, but feared that the very act of restoration could endanger the ship. Working with the School of Computing & Mathematical Sciences at the University of Greenwich, the trust aimed to exploit the latest finite element analysis (FEA) techniques to ensure that the ship would be dismantled and restored in the safest possible way. The trust also aimed to acquire knowledge and capabilities that it could supply as a service for the preservation of other historic vessels.


The KTP collaboration successfully developed and validated FEA techniques to predict how the wood and metal components would behave in various renovation scenarios. A detailed three-dimensional computer model of the ship enabled engineers to predict the stresses and strains the ship would undergo during conservation procedures, thereby minimising risks to her delicate structure during dismantling, restoration and reassembly operations. The results from this KTP project were used to support the trust’s submission to the Heritage Lottery Fund, winning £13m towards the conservation project and enabling work to begin in late 2006. The data are also helping the trust assess damage to the Cutty Sark and coordinate repair work following a serious fire in May 2007. In the future, the organisation plans to market its new-found capabilities to help preserve other historic vessels.


  • FEA technology established as a tool to aid conservation work.
  • Optimised dismantling and reassembly procedures, minimising risks to structure.
  • Better planning of conservation programme, reducing costs by £500,000.
  • Marketable in-house knowledge on applying FEA techniques to aged composite structures.