'Agree With Everything - Deny Nothing - Embellish All

Friday, June 24, 2005

Rum, Sodomy & The Lash

Last weekend the replica HMS Bounty finally made it into Maryport harbour on a high tide, so along with many hundreds of other sensation-seekers I went down to Senhouse Dock to see whether the re-enactors were upholding the traditions of the Royal Navy.
It was an exceptionally hot, humid day up here in the News-room, but down on the coast a sea-breeze had brought fog ashore: the air was ten degrees cooler, the town wreathed in mist and the ship's cross-trees looked faint and ghost-like across the rooftops of Ismay Wharf as I approached the harbour.
Contrary to all expectations, the experience turned out to be great fun: the boat doing duty as the Bounty was actually a fulltime re-enactment vessel called The Grand Turk, re-branded and sailing under false colours for the occasion. It's a 20-gun frigate, straight out of the pages of Patrick O'Brian (with some anachronisms like modern emergency equipment and climbing harnesses for skylarkers) and a crew of professional sailors and volunteers whose enthusiasm is impossible to resist.
I should confess that I'm no fan of historical re-enactment - it generally strikes me as naff and counter-imaginative, an unhappy symptom of the nation's obsession with heritage at the expense of history. How many of the Ermine Street Guard, for instance, leave their beta-blockers and insulin behind when they re-create Roman Britain? And wouldn't the experience of members of the Sealed Knot be altogether more authentic if half of them knew they'd be ending their days in 30 minutes with a Roundhead's pike in their guts?
But The Grand Turk (or whatever you wish to call it) had a certain splendour that transcended my unease. I had a palpable sense of the ship as a gigantic machine of the pre-industrial age, beautifully adorned, but fearsomely well-designed and skilfully wrought, both a comforting protection and an engine of death.
The mutiny re-enactment was brief and to the point. The warning cannon-shot attracted the attention of the local fire-brigade, but Captain Bligh was successfully arrested and relieved of his command. Mercifully, the chap playing Mr Christian did not attempt to impersonate Marlon Brando's infamous version of a Cumbrian accent. I don't suppose for a moment that this visit really marks the dawn of my hometown's tourism-led renaissance. But I was left with the distinct impression that my grandfather, a Maryport seaman who in extreme youth sailed alongside men who had themselves crewed the great tea-clipper races, would have approved of the occasion.


Blogger Miles said...

HMS Bountry was a converted whitby whaler, she was no frigate, who do these Grand Turk people think they're kidding!

24/6/05 11:39 pm  
Blogger Nick said...

Miles - thanks for the historic background. I think the Turks were fairly clearly not intending to kid anyone. As to the Maryport tourist board however . . .

25/6/05 8:19 am  
Blogger Piers said...

Apparently she is heading south to be HMS Victory in a re-enactment of the Battle of Trafalgar. The Ermine Street Guard might not have the swagger of a real roman legion but their attention to detail is far superior. Who could even think of recreating the Battle of Trafalgar without accurate replica ships?

25/6/05 10:21 am  
Blogger Miles said...

I thought it was just red vs. blue this time?

HMS Victory vasn't a frigate either...

25/6/05 11:23 am  
Blogger Nick said...

I'm intrigued by the notion that someone's managed to persuade the French to re-enact the Battle of Trafalgar . . . but then you don't get many Somme re-enactors either.

25/6/05 11:43 am  
Blogger Piers said...

Miles is right. Red vs blue - to maintain Anglo-French relations.

25/6/05 2:31 pm  
Blogger Miles said...

Done some more research, the Grand Turk is no frigate either, she's a merchant ship. Not worth stealing and sailing to the Caribbean :(

25/6/05 4:11 pm  
Blogger Nick said...

Erm, Miles - their own website (see original post) claims the Turk was built from original design drawings of an C18th frigate (though their wording could be ambiguous). Can you shed further light?

26/6/05 12:38 pm  
Blogger Miles said...

18th century frigates are normaly higher in the water, have a raised stern and carry 36 cannons. Not that I'm nit picking, I'm sure it could have still done a frigates job...

26/6/05 1:16 pm  
Anonymous Dr John said...

There seems to be something of a shortage of Napoleonic era warships. AFAIK Grand Turk also starred in the Hornblower TV series as everything from a pinnace to a battleship. I think it must be about the only thing that floats and has square sails and guns.

I think the Aussies built a replica Endeavour to celebrate Cook's voyages (a Whitby collier, so would have been much more like Bounty) but I presume it's still in Oz.

27/6/05 8:55 am  
Blogger Miles said...

I guess there just isn't the market for them.

27/6/05 4:25 pm  
Blogger RenMan said...

Will you lot stop ranting and just enjoy the experience

2/7/05 6:41 pm  

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