St. Mary Overies Dock, Cathedral Street SE1 9DE
Thursday February 9 2017
Apologies for the week’s delay but we were out and about celebrating a significant birthday.
Back to the river, though this time on a freezing cold day where it kept trying to sleet.
This had a serious impact on our ability to take photos and to write as ‘our tiny hands were frozen’ so such information as I have is salvaged from the leaflet and memory... The Golden Hinde seems to specialise in group visits, and small ones at that by which I mean a small number of people who are small in stature.
The reason for this is, though billed a galleon, this replica, built in the US in 1973, is actually very compact – what’s more below deck the head space is VERY restricted. (I went round the gun deck on my knees as being probably the safest option…) There would have been quite a few boys on board and those who survived being lashed to the cross-trees could have helped out..
The original ship is famed for being the vessel in which Francis Drake circumnavigated the globe, the first Englishman to do so. One’s first and most lasting impression is how brave and skilled those sailors and navigators must have been to set forth in so small a vessel, with a modest crew – at most 30 people – on a largely unknown journey. Peril at sea is timeless and universal but today’s seafarers have a wealth of navigational tools at their disposal, not to mention good back up and rescue services. Drake’s expedition also had another motive – namely to ‘explore’ what territories and goodies the Spanish had acquired and reward the secret sponsor, Elizabeth 1, with some of the ‘spoils’. We noted that no-one referred to Sir Francis (as he became on completing this voyage) as a pirate, but rather a ‘privateer’. But when you realise he brought back enough ‘treasure’ to pay off the national Debt, which Elizabeth’s father Henry VIII had cheerfully racked up (where are you now Sir Francis?) then you can understand how important this voyage was to England and history.
Drake’s cabin was the first sheltered part of the ship we visited though it was so dark it was hard to see, and even harder to photograph. A several-armed candelabra was his only form of lighting, which on board a pitching ship is dangerous. You emerge just by the impressive wheel – a modern addition to aid steering – and the rack of belaying pins – devices designed to hold a rope steady whilst winding in. We crossed over the maindeck to the foredeck and fo’c’sle (forecastle) from where there would have been look-outs to search for land or enemies around. Although the decks are much lower than most ships the steps are in fact quite negotiable. We descended from the front and found ourselves on the gun deck with its very limited headspace – apparently so designed to give the ship greater stability – there were 14 closely packed small cannons known as minions with a 300 yard (less in metres) range. The lucky sailors got to sleep here in shifts probably on the damp floor or slung in hammocks.
(In the summer we had visited the Portsmouth Dockyard with the absolutely brilliant Mary Rose exhibition/experience. The Mary Rose may have been magnificent and about four times the size of the Golden Hide but obviously not very sea worthy as she got no further than Portsmouth harbour before she sank – so perhaps small was beautiful after all.)
You can go lower still into the hold which would originally have been full of ballast to keep the ship down and upright in the water. Actually there is more space here than amongst the guns and just enough light to read the information boards about rigging and shipbuilding and caulking.
Backup to the main deck where there is also the Great Cabin for dining and Drake’s officers. As there was a school party expected at 11 we were keen to leave them enough space to move around and stepped ashore admiring both the lion at the stern and the Golden Hinde figurehead, the hind being the heraldic emblem of Sir Christopher Hatton (Elizabeth’s Lord Chancellor who had a house … and garden near Holborn). The ship also displays Hatton’s motto to acknowledge that he had largely sponsored the ship and voyage.
This is a small scale visit on all levels but one that left me with extreme respect and admiration for the Renaissance and Tudor age mariners who risked so much to put England on the map and make the country and themselves richer. This ship was undoubtedly well built and seaworthy but still feels like an accident waiting to happen..
As we badly needed to warm up we headed into Southwark cathedral, which will be a later blog entry..