The Cutty Sark has been saved from catastrophic damage in a raging blaze thanks to its timber supports, the architect behind the restoration project has claimed.
Simon Beames, founder of Grimshaw offshoot youmeheshe, said the original steel props, replaced by timber beams during the restoration, would have buckled in the heat of the inferno which engulfed the famous tea clipper in its dry berth in Greenwich, south-east London.
Though there are concerns about the structural integrity of the Cutty Sark
's steel frame, damage to the 19th-century ship is not as bad as first feared, with almost half of the boat's hull, mast and rigging being restored off-site.
Beames, who learned of the blaze after helicopters flew over his home to the nearby ship, said the wooden supports had performed admirably in the fire.
He said: 'I've been down near the boat and it is still sitting there on the new, timber props. If the hull had been sat on the original steel it would probably have fallen over because the steel would have buckled and given way.
He added: 'Although charred, the new props kept the boat in position - it is a good advert for timber.
'The thing I'm most worried about now is the frame and whether it has suffered 'molecular' damage and is therefore unsalvageable.'
Despite the damage, Beames is still confident the restoration scheme, which will see a new glass canopy built around the boat, will go ahead as first envisaged.
He said: 'We are still hoping to be able to support the building from the sides but there is a possibility we may have to add additional support.
'In the coming weeks we will have to sit down together as a team - we want to keep this momentum going.'
Even so, Beames admitted the incident could set the £25 million project back almost a year, and it is now unlikely to open on schedule in early 2009.
The ship was not the only victim of the blaze. The neighbouring white-roofed, tent-like pavilion, also designed by youmeheshe, was also damaged.
Beames said the pavilion looked like a 'pepperpot' and had a big hole in one side where it had melted.by Richard Waite