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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

Why are ships female?

When Admiral Chester W Nimitz, the architect of the Allies victory in the Pacific during WW2, was asked this question, he replied; "A ship is always referred to as 'she' because it costs so much to keep one in paint and powder." But pre-feminist jokes aside, the question is one that deserves a proper answer. Why do we refer to ships as if they were female? One explanation I have seen can be quickly dismissed. It isn’t a relic from a time when nouns had genders in Old English. A brief look at languages that still use this grammatical form today shows no pattern. Ships are feminine in Latin, masculine in French, and neuter in German, for example. The Oxford English dictionary dates the first c

The French Captain Cook

Captain James Cook’s three voyages of exploration in the Pacific where widely admired throughout Enlightenment Europe. The southern Pacific Ocean was almost completely unknown to Europeans, and there were high hopes that he would discover a lost continent there. The results of Cook’s voyages were awaited with excitement comparable to that surrounding the moon landings of our own recent past. In France, Louis XVI demanded to know why his nation was not engaging in such voyages of exploration, and a hasty search was made for a French Captain Cook. The man chosen for the role was Jean-François de Galaup, comte de La Pérouse. La Pérouse joined the French Navy at 15 in 1756, within a few years of

The Santisima Trinidad

When she was launched in 1769, the Santisima Trinidad (Holy Trinity) was the greatest warship the age of sail had seen. She was built as a one-off design in Havana, Cuba, by Matthew Mullan, an Irish naval architect in the service of Spain. Her displacement of 4,950 tons made her comfortably the largest warship in the world. For comparison, Nelson’s flagship the Victory, which was launched a few years earlier, was only 3,500 tons. Originally built as a three decked, first rate, she was redesigned in 1795. By joining up her forecastle to her quarterdeck, she was given a complete battery of small 8pdr cannon on her upper deck, taking the number of cannons she carried to 130, and making her the

The Search for Longitude

Mankind has long known that they lived on a spherical world. Astronomers could see the circular shadow cast by the earth on the moon during an eclipse. Sailors noticed the suggestive way that a ship disappears over the horizon, the hull vanishing first, then the lower sails and finally the masthead. The ancient Greek mathematician Eratosthenes in the third century BC even calculated the circumference of the world, producing a result within 10% of the correct size. At first navigating across the surface the world was reality straightforward, with most mariners content to follow a known coastline to a ship’s destination. But the growth in oceanic navigation that followed the discovery of the A

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