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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

The Worm and the Welsh Mountain

The Teredo worm is a long, slimy, grey mollusc that can grow up to three feet long and an inch thick. It was feared by 18th century sailors, because of its voracious appetite for wood. Teredos bore long cylindrical holes into the timbers of ships, often in such numbers that only a thin wall is left between each worm’s chamber, reducing the strongest oak to little more than a honeycomb. As the ship becomes ever more fragile, the hull can break apart in the open sea, perhaps under the stress of rough weather, and without any warning. Sailors would recount dark tales of ships that vanished, far out at sea, when their worm-infested bottoms simply fell away. The Caribbean has the most Teredo-infe

The Scent of Treasure – Rooke, and the Battle of Vigo Bay

In the summer of 1702, an Anglo/Dutch force under the command of Admiral George Rooke was attempting to capture the Spanish port of Cadiz. The city had been targeted both to use as a naval base, and because it was the main port where their treasure fleets from the New World docked. The Spanish state was financially dependent on silver imported from its American Empire, especially in time of war. But the siege dragged on for longer than expected, and with winter approaching, and no safe base captured, the Allied fleet headed for home. That might have been the end of the matter, but for an indiscrete conversation taking place further up the coast. In the Portuguese port of Lagos, the Pembroke

Deptford’s Royal Dockyard

By the 1980s, Deptford in southeast London was a rundown and dilapidated shadow of its former self. Pound-shops and fast food outlets competed with tattooing parlours and tanning salons along much of its high street. Friends of mine, who grew up in South East London at that time, tell me that it was sometimes referred to as Dirty Deptford. Yet there are plenty of clues in the area that tell of a more glorious past. Take, for example, Deptford Town Hall. This splendid building is topped by a weathervane in the form of a large gilt sailing ship under top and topgallant sails. The stonework of the buildings is decorated with other nautical carvings. There are anchors, dolphins, seashells, a fri

Sails and the Art of the Sailmaker

By the close of the 18th century, warships were self-contained communities, capable of operating away from land for months at a time. Cook’s first voyage of exploration lasted almost three years, much of it spent in the uncharted waters of the South Pacific. In their cavernous holds, warships carried their own food, fuel, water and clothing, along with all the material and skilled craftsmen they needed to maintain and repair the fabric of their wooden world. One of those skilled craftsman was the sailmaker. Royal Navy ships in the 18th century were not issued with a set of sails. Instead they were supplied with a sailmaker. He might work alone, if the ship was small, or he might head up a te

Invincible - how the French gave the world the 74

In 1747, the French dispatched a vital convoy of thirty merchantmen to carry reinforcements and supplies to their troops in North America. They were being protected by a small naval force, including four ships of the line. On the 14th of May, off Cape Finisterre in Spain, the convoy was intercepted by a much larger British force detached from the Channel Fleet. The French warships fought bravely to protect their charges, but outnumbered as they were, they were decisively defeated. This minor action might have gone unnoticed by all but a few naval historians, were it not for the fact that it was the first time that the British encountered a new type of warship. The Royal Navy had considerable

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