Major work is needed to stop a world famous historic ship from closing, conservationists have warned.
How the ship may look after restoration
The Cutty Sark Trust has applied for a £11.75m grant in order to preserve the 134-year-old boat's corroding iron frame.
The grant is part of a £25m plan to save the ship, located in Greenwich, south-east London.
A spokesman said if immediate action was not taken they would have to close it to the public in three years.
The Cutty Sark Trust hopes to raise the other £13.25m needed from the public, business sponsors and charitable trusts.
Trust chief executive Richard Doughty said: "The ship, set in a rippling sea of glass with sails set, is no longer a static exhibit in concrete, but an awe-inspiring spectacle.
"Our plans have been formulated now because of the physical condition of the ship.
"Unless we act quickly, the trust will be forced to close the ship as a public attraction in 2007."
In a personal letter backing the project, the Duke of Edinburgh has written: "Her importance for future generations is greater now than it ever has been and
I hope local enthusiasm and a sense of history ensure she gets the treatment she richly deserves."
The trust is working with Grimshaw, the architects who designed the Eden Project and Waterloo International Station.
Their plans include raising the ship up in her dry berth in a kevlar web, which will enable visitors to walk underneath it.
They also plan to reinstate some of her sails and portray it cutting through waves.
Work on the Cutty Sark will begin in September 2006 if the funding is secured.
The Cutty Sark - the world's only surviving tea clipper - was originally used to speed the delivery of tea from China and later travelled on many journeys fetching wool from Australia.