Yesterday afternoon I went for a meeting with the Cutty Sark Trust to get an update on progress with the conservation project. Afterwards we went down to the site for a tour of the ship, and I'm pleased to report that work is proceeding apace.
A few weeks ago I was quoted in a Bexley Times story calling for reassurance that the ship will be ready in time for the Olympics. The story was slightly misleading - I didn't exactly "call for" anything, but instead responded to questions from the reporter, who was already writing a story about the Trust not giving a precise timetable. But I did agree that it was important to give some reassurance to the public that all is on course.
So I'm pleased to say that after yesterday I am personally much reassured. We arrived on site just as the digger was breaking ground for the extension of the dry dock which will house various facilities for the new space under the ship. "A groundbreaking moment" as someone said (OK, it was me).
Unlike the last time I was there, I was this time able to go onto the ship, and it's great to see it taking its old shape again, with original timbers being put back onto the iron structure (reinforced in places with new steel plates). There are signs of activity everywhere, and once the construction of the dock extension is completed the next major phase of work will be the lifting of the ship - a key moment which will be the most visible sign of progress so far.
I understand why the Trust don't want to put a precise timetable on the likely opening date until nearer the time, as there could still be unexpected problems and they want to be cautious. But they do have their own internal timescales for the next phases and it's fair to say (as the Bexley Times was told) that they are on course for completion towards the end of next year. That being the case, the ship would indeed be open well in time for the Olympics.
In our private meeting I also raised many of the concerns that have been raised about the project, and am pleased to hear they have robust answers to some of the claims that have been made. I think perhaps they could be more pro-active in publicly rebutting some of the allegations that have been made, but they are rightly more focussed on delivering the project.
To see photos of the progress being made, keep an eye on the ship's website, which shows how much has been achieved. The latest pictures are from last month, so work has progressed even further now. We can never be completely sure, and I don't want to tempt fate, but it does appear that all is now going well, after the setbacks of recent years. I will be keeping in close contact with the Trust, and look forward to going back on site before too long.