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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

Launching Ships

When Queen Elizabeth II launched her namesake, the Royal Navy’s latest aircraft carrier, last year, she smashed a bottle of whisky against the ship’s side. This caused considerable interest in the British media at the time. Why had more traditional French Champagne not been used? Was this yet another example of unfolding Brexit? It was even revealed that most modern ships were not launched with a bottle of champagne anyway. Apparently Spanish Cava produces a much more satisfactory splash of bubbles on impact. All of which raises the more interesting question - why do we launch a ship by smashing a bottle against it in the first place? From ancient times, launching a ship has always been acco

The Battle of the Nile

At the end of 1942, the Allies won three victories in three different theatres. In the Pacific the US Navy turned back the remorseless Japanese advance at Midway. In the snows of southern Russia the Red Army destroyed the German 6th Army at Stalingrad, while in the heat of the Western Dessert British and Commonwealth troops decisively defeated the German Africa Corp at the Battle of El Alamein. After three long years in which everything had been going against them, the momentum had at last shifted. In the summer of 1798 it was the French who seemed to be all conquering, having yet to suffer a major defeat on land or sea. In five years of war they had forced Austria and Prussia to sue for pea

Black Tars

In the heart of London is Trafalgar Square, where the figure of Nelson stands on top of his column and gazes out over the city’s traffic with his single good eye. The base of the column is decorated by four bronze reliefs that commemorate some of his victories. The one for the Battle of Trafalgar shows the admiral being carried from the quarterdeck of the Victory moments after being shot by a French marksman. The scene has fourteen people in it, including Nelson, one of whom is clearly a black sailor. He has been given a prominent role, standing with a musket held across his chest as he looks towards where the shot has come from, as if about to revenge the dying Nelson. The relief was produc

“What, are there two of them?”

In 1757 the Cornish Pellew family celebrated the birth of their second son, Edward. The following year his younger brother Israel was born. Both brothers would go on to join the Royal Navy as youngsters and have highly successful careers. They were both promoted quickly through the service on merit, would each be knighted and would end their careers as admirals. Just as they were born within a year of each other, so they died together in their seventies, Israel in July 1832, and Edward six months later. It was Edward who was the first to go to sea, running away from a hated headmaster at Truro Grammar School when only fourteen to join the navy. As a midshipman he was a member of the naval c

Grog

The Royal Navy has long been associated with the consumption of rum, the drink produced from sugarcane in the islands of the Caribbean. Indeed as late as 1970 rum was still being issued at noon each day to the crews of Royal Navy warships. It was only political pressure from above, combined with an increasing need for sobriety in the operation of modern equipment that finally killed it off. Yet why would a Navy based in the chill waters of northern Europe adopt a beverage from so far afield? Were there local spirits available? One can well understand that French brandy might have been problematic, but why not issue Scottish whisky, or Plymouth gin, distilled on the very doorstep of one of th

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