Captain Moodie - The Cutty Sark
An Auchtermuchty Resident
A notable local character was Captain George Moodie who, in 1911, moved from Methil to continue his retirement in Macduff House on the High Street of Auchtermuchty. Macduff House is an imposing late 16th century residence and the oldest surviving property in the town.
Originally from East Wemyss and apprenticed as a seaman, he rose to become the very first Captain of the famous tea clipper, the Cutty Sark. He was said to have been a careful navigator, full of 'scotch caution' and a good businessman.
The Cutty Sark
The building of the Cutty Sark was deemed to be a 'class job' by all involved. Moodie oversaw its building at Scott & Linton's yard on the Clyde and personally inspected all the timbers used. Moodie was said to have only accepted the best quality materials and workmanship, which added to the cost but possibly also explained the longevity of the ship. Teak was the main material used, with the decking three and a half inches thick. the cabins were beautifully fitted out, with even a four poster bed for the Captain instead of a bunk. The ship was copper-bottomed which prevented anything attaching to her which might slow her speed.
Speed was of the essence. The great ship owners vied amongst themselves to win the 'Great Ship Race' or Blue Ribbon, with races to China, Australia, and New York and back. Moodie was required to race against the other tea clippers, his chief rival being 'Thermopylae' of the Aberdeen Line. The tea clippers carried general cargo, including coal, to Japan and China, and loaded up with over a million pounds of tea in tightly packed tea chests for their return voyage to the UK.
Image courtesy of Royal Museums Greenwich
An Exhausting Ordeal
Moodie was the Captain of the Cutty Sark for three years before resigning after an exhausing ordeal at sea during a voyage, and race against Thermopylae. In rough seas in the Indian Ocean the rudder of his ship broke. The owner's brother, Robert Willis, who happened to be on board wanted to put the ship into port but Moodie was adamant that a repair at sea should be attempted. In an incredible feat of improvisation and engineering, a new board was cut from a spar and the forge on board was heated up to make the necessary iron eye bolts.
Whilst the ship rolled and water washed over the decks the forge was overturned by a wave and hot coals were showered over Moodie's son, Alexander, an apprentice, who was wielding the bellows. His chest was scarred for life. Apparently there were two stowaways on board, a Scots blacksmith and an English carpenter. Both were put to work to finish the repairs! The Cutty Sark limped home, needing further repairs, and lost that race by seven days.
Captain Moodie went on to have a 19 year career sailing steamships from London and Glasgow to New york before retiring to Methil and later to Auchtermuchty, where the air was considered 'beneficial to his health'.
A late elderly resident of Auchtermuchty used to recall his childhood memories of Captain Moodie: "I remember Captain moodie of the Cutty Sark, who used to live in Macduff house ... We used to go to The Cross as the 8 o'clock bells were ringing and as soon as the bells started he would come out. He still wore his naval blazer with the brass buttons and he would walk round the war memorial two or three times. When the bells finished he'd just toddle off back into his house."