The Cutty Sark, most famous and one of the fastest three-masted sailings ships, was built and partly designed by John '˜White Hat' Willis, born in Eyemouth. He named many of his vessels after towns and villages in Berwickshire.
The story of Willis, nicknamed after the top hat he wore on London’s dockside, was told to members of Berwick Probus Club by Fay Waddell, from Eyemouth, who has undertaken major research into his life and also that of his father John, another master captain who did much to develop the demerara trade in the Carribean.
White Hat John was a shrewd businessman as well as an excellent seaman and his fleet of boats did much to open up trade with India, China and Hong Kong, bringing back silks and tea.
Mrs Waddell recounted how Willis became determined to create the fastest clipper of all and employed Hercules Linton and his partner Scott to help.
Unfortunately they were supervised by the fastidious George Moodie, who was to be the ship’s captain.
Work fell behind schedule and Linton went bust but by the end of 1869 Cutty Sark made her maiden voyage.
Three years later, racing for home against her great rival Thermopylae, she built up a 500-mile lead.
Caught in a hurricane, Cutty Sark lost her rudder but, in a remarkable feat in stormy seas, created and lowered a replacement.
She eventually reached home seven days behind her rival.
Receiving a rapturous welcome, Cutty Sark came loser of the race but a heroine of the seas.
Probus welcomed a new member Ken Chalmers.
Last week’s speaker was club member Ron Shaw who gave an excellent talk and slide show on St Cuthbert’s Way.