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May 23, 2007

Little ship, large achievements

Tucked away in St Mary Overy dock, adjacent to Southwark Cathedral, is a replica of Sir Francis Drake's flagship on his epic voyage around the world 1577 to 1580. She is an exact replica in all her dimensions and when you see her you are compelled to wonder what manner of men would risk their very lives sailing her along the route they did. Even more interesting is the fact the Drake sailed north as far, possibly, as the island chain leading to the Bering Straits in an attempt to find a passge home across the top of the continent. When he was driven south again, he carried out repairs to his ship somewhere in the vicinity of modern San Francisco before setting off across the Pacific. He had captured so much treasure that he had no choice but to jettison his normal ballast (and cannon balls according to some accounts) and had the ship ballasted with the treasure. It is said that Queen Elizabeth the First received £6 million worth of treasure, having allowed Sir Francis to quietly remove his share before her commissioners (Tax Collectors) arrived. It is also said that his share was almost £1.5 million - in those days!

The replica Golden Hind sits afloat in her dock at St Mary Overy in London.

No wonder the Spanish King was a little upset with him. In fact the circumnavigation was a necessity as the Spanish had a fleet out looking for him in the South Atlantic and to prevent his return via the Cape Horn route.

The ship herself is very small, only ninety feet overall and the "Admiral's" cabin is certainly not on the scale of Nelson's quarters on HMS Victory, being in part shared with his other officers. Only the Master had a tiny cabin on the poop aft of the helmsman's position. The crew, again reputedly around 80 men and boys, slept and lived wherever they could find space, generally under the forecastle or - in really cold climates - in the hold itself.

One feature of these ships which we would find very difficult to deal with is the smell. Elizabethan sailors were required, under the Queen's Regulations for Ships being in fashion of War upon the Sea, was that half hogsheads had to be lashed to the gunwales and kept full of urine. Canvas "beaters" had to be kept near these to allow the crew to use them, soaked first in the urine, to extinguish any fire. With no toilet facilities it was common for the crew to use the bilges in bad weather for all other waste disposal. More than enough said!

The achievement in sailing a ship like this around the world, going the "wrong" way round Cape Horn is nothing short of Herculean. The prevailing winds and currents make it much easier to sail from West to East around the Horn, going the other way is simply asking for trouble. To do so in a single ship in the face of enemy ship's hostile locals and without a single friendly port to take refuge in in a crisis speaks of men of remarkable endurance and courage.

Posted by The Gray Monk at May 23, 2007 09:16 PM

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Could you please contact me a I would like to ask you somee details about what camera you used together with what lense you used to take the photos of the replic Golden Hind and the Victory.

I was in Portsmouth last year and took similar photos but they came out nowhere near as good as yours and I would like to pick your brains to improve my picture taking.



Posted by: Murray Rzepecki at June 21, 2007 02:40 AM