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I publish them regularly on topics based around my enduring love for all matters maritime. I keep them short and light, so they should be no longer to read than the time it takes to drink a coffee. If you want to receive them, please subscribe below

Navy Blue

Navies throughout the world wear basically the same uniform. Dark blue for temperate and full dress with a white variant for warmer climates. Whichever version is worn, it will be decorated with buttons and badges that feature an anchor. It is so universally true, that it hardly attracts notice. It is only when you stop to think about it that you realise how unusual it is. Consider army uniforms. The advent of the breach loading rifle may have forced all soldiers into some variety of green or brown, but before that the armies of the world wore every colour of the rainbow. During the Napoleonic wars, for example, the French and Prussians mainly wore blue, the Swiss red, the Russians green, th

Latitude

Use some mapping software, like Google Earth, centre yourself on the middle of the Pacific Ocean and zoom out. A planet will appear that you can barely recognise. From that angle our world is almost entirely blue, save for a scatter of islands across the face of the deep. The continents of the Americas and Asia appear only as a fringe of land around the edge, and even Australia and New Zealand barely intrude. Yet in 1743 Admiral George Anson, aboard HMS Centurion, set out into this unimaginable vastness to hunt down a single Spanish ship. She was the Nuestra Senora de Convadonga, better known as the Acapulco galleon, and each year she travelled between the Spanish Philippines and Mexico. She

The French Nelson

When British and French fleets met in battle during the 18th century, as a general rule, it was always the British that won. Not every time, granted, and there were plenty of encounters that ended in strategic draws, but overall this is true. But there was a notable exception to this rule. The French admiral who led his nation’s fleet in the Indian Ocean during the American War of Independence fought no less than five fleet actions against the Royal Navy, and never lost any of them. Indeed, he never even lost a ship. His name was Pierre Andre de Suffren. He joined the French Navy in 1743, as a fourteen year old midshipman. Four years later be tasted his first defeat, when the convoy he was d

Why did ships have figureheads?

Figureheads are magnificent things. Stroll along the ranks of huge, colourfully painted ones in the naval museums at Greenwich or Portsmouth, and you cannot help but be impressed by the skill and effort that went into carving them. All of which begs the question why ship builders went to the effort and expense of commissioning such elaborate works of art to adorn the front of their vessels? They have no apparent function for the ship other than decoration. With the rise of modernity and corporate accountancy in the late nineteenth century, the figurehead quickly disappeared. The recently launched aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth may be the latest and largest ship in the Royal Navy’s his

Winston Churchill’s Tattoo

At the end of the 18th century, a new craze was sweeping the lower decks of the Royal Navy. The very latest fashion accessory for the well turned out sailor was to have a tattoo. Then, as now, young men in particular found the lure of decorated skin irresistible. The reason for its spread came in the wake of the voyages of exploration that Captain Cook had made twenty years earlier. Tattooing had existed in the islands of the Pacific for centuries before Cook arrived. The word tattoo is Polynesian, and is the sound made by the little wooden hammers that the islanders use to puncture the skin. The dense patterns of lines that adorned the locals impressed Cook’s sailors, and they asked tattoo

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