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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

Steering

Mankind first took to the sea in ships over five thousand years ago, during the Bronze Age. In Ancient Egypt, sailing vessels of up to eighty feet long were built from 3000BC. Initially used on the Nile to transport men and goods, they soon ventured out along the coasts of the Mediterranean and the Red Sea. Later the Phoenicians, Greeks, Chinese and Romans built ships too, at first for trade, and later for war. All of these craft needed to be steered. The method used in the Ancient World was to mount either one or two large flat oars to the side of the ship, close to the stern, where their leverage in the water would generate the most turn. The blade of the oar rested in the sea, edge on to

The mighty Tonnant

Towards the end of the 1780s, the talented French shipwright Jacques-Noël Sané was putting the finishing touches to his latest design. It was for a new class of warship with two gun decks, which he hoped would form the core of the French battle fleet through to the end of that century and beyond. What he proposed was to replace the 74, which was the most common ship of the line in most European navies, with 80 gun vessels. What he envisaged were mighty ships, rather than stretched versions of existing two-deckers. They were built to a different scale altogether. With a hull length of almost two hundred feet, and a beam of fifty, their footprint was that of a three-decked first rate. This mea

The Aftermath of Trafalgar

It is one of history’s great scenes. Nelson, the heroic leader, struck down at the moment of his greatest triumph. The Battle of Trafalgar, which had just started, will confirm the Royal Navy’s mastery over the oceans of the world for the next hundred years. The wounded admiral clings to life down on the orlop deck of the Victory, for just long enough to learn of the completeness of his enemy’s defeat. “Thank God I have done my duty,” he murmurs, and then he dies. Many accounts of the battle end at this point, but life is rarely so straightforward. Command of the fleet passed from Nelson to his deputy, Vice-Admiral Collingwood, although he himself had been badly wounded in the leg, and his f

A man named Sandwich

John Montagu, the 4th Earl of Sandwich was one of the most controversial heads that the Royal Navy has had. A career politician with no naval experience, he nevertheless held the office of First Lord of the Admiralty on three separate occasions between 1749, when he was just out of his twenties, and 1782, when he retired. Much of the controversy that surrounds him stems not from his time in office, but from his colourful private life. His grandfather had been insane for several years before he died in 1729, leaving his ten-year-old grandson very little more than his earldom. His widowed mother had already remarried and effectively abandoned the young Montagu, forcing him to make his own way

Parrots

Parrots and sailors are inextricably linked in most people’s view of the Age of Sail. This combination has been assisted by many works of fiction, from the bird that perched on Long John Silver’s shoulder in Treasure Island, to James Turner’s green parrot in Swallows and Amazon. So how prevalent was bird ownership among seamen? The association between the two seems to have begun very early, with sailors in the fifteenth century acquiring parrots on early voyages along the coast of Africa. Columbus was quick to spot the potential of the exotic birds he encountered in the New World, returning with five long-tailed macaws from his 1492 voyage, and sixty parrots from his next trip. Not only did

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