Gokstand ship footprints

Monday, 29th April, 2013

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 Dealing with the doldrums on a Viking voyage

He’s crowded into a sleek sailing ship with 65 other men. Scarcely room to move. It’s been days since anybody has seen land – longer since anyone bathed. The old-timers’ repeated tales of bygone raids and voyages are beginning to wear thin.
His place is behind an oar, but there is no need to row continuously on the North Sea. With wind in the sail, the boat surges towards England, where riches await.
But what is there to do while waiting to reach a foreign coast?
Maybe it was a teenager engaged in a Viking version of tagging a school desk. In any case, someone took out his knife, bent down and traced the outline of his foot on the deck of the Gokstad Ship.
Today, 1,100 years later, researcher and storage manager Hanne Lovise Aannestad shows us a couple of deck planks that are among her favourite artefacts at the Museum of Cultural History in Oslo.
“I think this particular item gives us a clear idea of what it was like to be living in the Viking Age, in a way that few other things do,” she says.
The Gokstad Ship was excavated in the late 1800s and is a permanent feature of the Viking Ship Museum at Bygdøy in Oslo.
For about a decade, from 890 to 900, the ship sailed on ocean voyages. The holes cut for oars along the upper hull are well worn, evidence that the ship had been used for more than just a funeral ceremony.
The ship’s deck was fitted with loose floorboards. These could be lifted up so that supplies and plundered treasure could be stored below deck. The outline of a foot covers two of these floorboards.
“My guess is that some time or another a person was bored and simply traced his foot with his knife. It’s a kind of an ‘I was here’ message,” says Aannestad.
There are two outlines of feet on the Gokstad Ship. One is a distinct right foot. The other is a weaker outline of a left foot on a different floorboard.
The ship was buried on land in a massive grave and the loose floorboards were helter-skelter when it was excavated. So we don’t know whether the planks with left and right feet had been originally next to each other or had been the capricious result of two separate individuals.
This makes the footprints no less fascinating for Aannestad:
“This is an artefact that gives us an empathetic understanding of a person behind the myths of the Viking Age. We know something about major events, of wars and battles and the building of kingdoms and all that, but this little outline puts you right down at the level of an individual,” she says.
“You can’t add a chapter to history with this. It shows that Vikings had feet, but we knew that. Yet it gives us an immediate emotional connection on a general human level. These were real people who went on Viking voyages, not cartoonish stereotypes. The voyages could be boring as well as harrowing.”
The outlines weren’t discovered until 2009. The floorboards were being moved from the museum at Bygdøy when one of Aannestad’s colleagues spotted the carved footprints.
So even 130 years after its excavation, researchers continue to make discoveries about one of Norway’s most famous and thoroughly studied vessels.
Aannestad has measured one of her own feet against a tracing of the carved outline – because no one can actually step on the fragile floorboard, of course. The foot was smaller than hers, and even though people were generally shorter in the Viking days, this was probably a little person.
“It could have been a young man. People were treated as adults much earlier in those days. They took off sooner than we would allow young boys to do today,” says Aannestad.
So we are free to let our imaginations run:
A young lad is bored with the tedium of a long voyage. On a whim he looks down at his foot and considers something that would provide a little diversion.
He was sufficiently dedicated to the task to include his toenails in his outline.
Maybe this was his first voyage and the drawing of his foot took his mind off the test of his manhood awaiting him in English or Irish towns? Perhaps this outline is the foot of a person who grew famous and whose name has been passed down to us through the sagas?
“We can only speculate. We’ll never know. In any case, we see the outline of an individual here,” says Aannestad.

The Gresham Ship

Monday, 28th May, 2012

Thames shipwreck moved piece by piece 160 miles… to Leicestershire

 Tudor Gresham Ship wreck moves to National Diving Centre

The wreck of an Elizabethan ship is being raised from a Portsmouth lake and taken to a new home in Leicestershire.
The so-called Gresham Ship has been 6m (20ft) underwater at Horsea Island Lake since being moved there after its discovery in the River Thames in 2003.
A large crane is being used to lift the 400-year-old remains for the journey to the Stoney Cove National Diving Centre.
 The Nautical Archaeology Society‘s Mark Beattie-Edwards called it “exciting and nerve-wracking at the same time”.
The merchant ship is thought to have been built in the 1570s. It sank in the River Thames and was only discovered in 2003, and raised the following year.
The  insignia of  Sir Thomas Gresham, an advisor to Elizabeth I who owned a cast-iron cannon factory in Mayfield, Sussex, was found on the barrel of one of its guns.
With its exact identity unknown, it has become known as the “Gresham Ship”.
Five sections of the hull were taken to Horsea Island, part of the HMS Excellent navy base, as a temporary storage measure.
However with public access to the military site limited, it is being raised and moved to its final resting place 160 miles (160 km) away at the National Diving Centre –  a flooded quarry at Stoney Cove, Leicestershire.
It will be used as an “underwater classroom” to train nautical archaeologists.
A team of eight divers are working to raise iron bars, the ship’s anchor and the 400-year-old pieces of timber, the largest of which is more than 8m (26 ft) long and weighs 8 tonnes.
A large crane and lifting airbags are being used to lift the pieces out of the water when they will be wrapped to avoid evaporation.
Mr Beattie-Edwards said: “I have massive anxiety – so many things could go wrong here.
“With such poor visibility in the water, the divers are effectively doing this blindfolded.
“We’ve got to hope that when the crane takes the weight, the timbers are strong enough to withstand the lift.”
The remnants are due to be put on military low loaders supplied by the Royal Engineers.
Their journey to Leicestershire is scheduled to begin on Tuesday afternoon.

Further Reading

Newport ship – ten years on

Saturday, 31st December, 2011

 Secrets of life on Newport’s medieval ship revealed

In the summer of 2002, thousands flocked to the banks of the River Usk in Newport (Casnewydd), to see a piece of history.
In the middle of a building site, the mud had been cleared to reveal the 500-year-old remains of a trading ship.
Built in 1447, it is the world’s best preserved example of a 15th Century vessel. Nearly ten years after it was uncovered, archaeologists are still making new discoveries about life on board.
They hope that in the next decade the ship will be rebuilt and put on display in its own museum.
Charles Ferris, from the Friends of the Newport Ship group, remembers the excitement as news of the discovery spread.
“It was amazing, it was absolutely palpable. I often think the Newport ship floats on a sea of goodwill,” he said.
“The Newport public did us proud and came out to support her in their thousands. People used to queue for two to three hours just to see her.”
The timbers were uncovered during work to build the  Riverfront Theatre and Arts Centre. After a  campaign to ensure it was preserved, the ship was moved timber by timber to an industrial unit nearby.
Around 2,000 oak timbers have been preserved in chemically-treated water tanks.
For almost 10 years, archaeologists have been carefully working through hundreds of boxes of  artefacts that were also salvaged from the mud.
Toby Jones, curator of the Newport medieval ship project, said: “We have literally thousands of things like shoes, coins, animal bones, fish bones, nuts, seeds, pollen.
“It’s all very interesting and can tell you so much about what life was like back in the medieval period.”
But it would be wrong to assume that by now, all of the ship’s secrets have been revealed. As the tenth anniversary of its discovery approaches in 2012, experts are still making new findings.
Mr Jones added: “A piece of rope was found during the excavation. It’s incredibly well preserved.
“It’s so well preserved we can tell its structure, how it’s made and the material it was made from, its overall size and how strong it would’ve been and, therefore, what it was used for in the ship.
“We only dug this out of the mud two weeks ago. This is what routinely shows up. Really nice examples that we didn’t even know we had.”
Items found include  a medieval shoe once considered the height of fashion
The industrial unit is more of a laboratory than a museum and so a study is now being carried out to find a suitable site, or building, to permanently display the ship.
The plan is to rebuild it, timber by timber, but space is an issue. When it was built, it would’ve been the length of three double-decker buses.
“Building the ship is actually going to take two to three years in itself,” said Mr Jones.
“We’re actually going to build the ship in the same order that they built the original ship in the medieval period. We’re going to learn just as much in that phase of the project as we’ve learned so far.
“When you go to see the ship in a museum in five or six years, rebuilt, you’re not going to need any imagination. It’s going to look like a ship and it’s going to blow you away.”

Update

 Newport’s medieval ship goes into the deep freeze
NEWPORT’S historic medieval ship will be preserved for generations to come following the start of a freeze drying process yesterday.
The  ship, believed to date back to the 15th century, will have all of its 2,000 timbers placed in a six tonne, custom-built freeze dryer.
The process, expected to be completed in 2014, will remove excess water and once complete, will leave the timbers dry to the touch meaning they can be handled more easily.
The preserved timbers will then be stored until arrangements are made for them to be placed on display.
The ship’s curator, Toby Jones, said it was a great way to mark the ten year anniversary of its discovery.
He said: “The ship will now be preserved for generations to come to discover and enjoy, and means that work can continue to discover even more about its exciting history.”
The vessel was discovered in the banks of the River Usk in June 2002 during construction of the Riverfront Theatre.
It was excavated piece by piece by a team of archaeologists and is one of the largest and best preserved examples of a ship from this period ever found in the UK.
It is currently stored at an industrial unit in Maesglas but it is hoped it will eventually be housed in its own museum.
The authority recently applied for a £21,000 Welsh Government grant to fund a digital reconstruction of the ship based on archaeological evidence, traditional ship building knowledge and historical research.
It is hoped this could be used to help guide the reassembly of its timbers once they have been preserved.
To celebrate the ten year anniversary of its discovery, a series of videos have been produced detailing the preservation process.

Newport’s medieval ship set to mark decade of discovery

Update

 Wales and Basque country work together to find origins of Newport’s medieval ship

THE ship is believed to have been built in the Basque Country, northern Spain, circa 1450. Previous guesses included Portugal or Bayonne, which lies in the region straddling the Basque Country and Gascony in southern France.
A coin found on board dates from 1447, but new findings reveal the ship is slightly younger than first thought.
The ship was damaged when it arrived in Wales in the midst of the War of the Roses, explained Newport City Councillor Charles Ferris, patron of the Friends of the Newport Medieval Ship.
“The ship was laid up in 1467, but it wasn’t obsolete at that point,” said Cllr Ferris.
“It was owned by Warwick the King-maker who was a notorious pirate and we know he gave passage to a ship called the Marie of Bayonne from the Basque Country, so our ship could have been the Marie.
“It could also have been taken in an act of piracy.”
Born in 1428, Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, was called ‘the king-maker’ because of his political influence.
It is possible that pirates operating under the Earl’s sponsorship may have captured the ship, but it never left Newport, possibly due to the Earl’s death.

Viking boat burial

Wednesday, 19th October, 2011

Viking chieftain’s burial ship excavated in Scotland after 1,000 years
Timber fragments and rivets of vessel, and deceased’s sword and shield, unearthed undisturbed on Ardnamurchan peninsula.
A Viking ship, which for 1,000 years has held the body of a chieftain, with his shield on his chest and his sword and spear by his side, has been excavated on a remote Scottish peninsula – the first undisturbed Viking ship burial found on the British mainland.
The timbers of the ship found on the Ardnamurchan peninsula – the mainland’s most westerly point – rotted into the soil centuries ago, like most of the bones of the man whose coffin it became.
However the outline of the classic Viking boat, with its pointed prow and stern, remained. Its form is pressed into the soil and its lines traced by hundreds of rivets, some still attached to scraps of wood.
An expert on Viking boats, Colleen Batey from the University of Glasgow, dates it to the 10th century.
At just 5m long and 1.5m wide, it would have been a perilously small vessel for crossing the stormy seas between Scandinavia, Scotland and Ireland. But the possessions buried with him suggest the Viking was a considerable traveller.
They include a whetstone from Norway, a bronze ringpin from Ireland, his sword with beautifully decorated hilt, a spear and a shield which survive only as metal fittings, and pottery.
He also had a knife, an axe, and a bronze object thought to be part of a drinking horn. Dozens of iron fragments, still being analysed, were also found in the boat.
The peninsula in the Highlands is still easier to reach by sea than along the single narrow road.
But with its magnificent mountain, sea and sunset views, it was a special place for burials for thousands of years.
The oldest, excavated by the same team three years ago, was a 6,000-year-old neolithic grave, and a bronze age burial mound is nearby.
Hannah Cobb, an archaeologist from the  University of Manchester who is co-director of the excavation, said: “We had spotted this low mound the previous year, but said firmly that it was probably just a pile of field clearance rocks from comparatively recent farming.
“When we uncovered the whole mound, the team digging came back the first night and said it looked quite like a boat.
“The second night they said: ‘It really does look like a boat.’ The third night they said: ‘We think we really do have a boat’. It was so exciting, we could hardly believe it.”
They recovered fragments of an arm bone and several teeth, which should allow analysis of radioactive isotopes and reveal where the man came from.
The fragments of wood clinging to the rivets should reveal what trees were felled for his ship, and possibly where it was built.
“Such burials were reserved for high status individuals,” Cobb said. “He may have been a chieftain, a famous navigator, or renowned for his wisdom, but this man was clearly special to his people.”
The boat had been almost filled with stones and Cobb believes these must have had meaning for the Vikings.
“Rocks are obviously significant as they also appear in other Viking burials,” she said.
“Building a lasting monument to the dead for the living may well be an important factor, and also rooting people in with landscape traditions, given the proximity to the neolithic and bronze age cairns.
“We don’t think the association with the older monuments can be a coincidence – this was a place which was very important to people over an extraordinarily long period of time.”
No trace of a settlement site has been found, but the team will be returning to the peninsula next summer.
The Ardnamurchan Transitions Project brings together students and academics from several universities working with  Archaeology Scotland.
The most famous ship burial in Britain,  Sutton Hoo – found heaped with treasure and excavated in Suffolk in the shadow of the second world war – looks like anyone’s idea of a Viking burial but proved to be Anglo-Saxon, centuries older than the seafaring Scandinavians.
When overcrowding or yearning for adventure and wealth sent the Vikings overseas in the late eighth century, the sight of their long narrow ships on the horizon struck dread.
Although their reputation has now been partly rehabilitated and they are recognised as traders, farmers, and brilliant shipwrights and metal and craft workers, a poem written in the margin of an Irish manuscript records a monk’s relief that the wild seas that night were too rough even for Vikings.
In 793, Viking raids forced monks to abandon Lindisfarne, an island off the north-east coast of England, carrying the body of Saint Cuthbert with them.
But the raiders also struck as far inland as Lichfield and established permanent settlements including York, the Wirral and Dublin.
The most famous description of a Viking ship burial, complete with the human sacrifice of a woman who volunteered to go with the dead chieftain into the next world – with lurid tales of drugged potions and ritual sexual intercourse pillaged by generations of novelists and film-makers – was left by a 10th century Arab writer, Ahmad Ibn Fadlan. But archaeology has vindicated much of his account.
Fadlan’s chieftain was cremated along with his ship, leaving only ashes to be buried under a mound. But many Vikings, like the man in Ardnamurchan, were laid in ships with their possessions heaped around them.
One of the best preserved, holding the remains of two women, was excavated at Oseberg in Norway in the early 20th century.
The burial dated from around 834 but the ship used was a generation older. The ship’s superbly carved bow and stern are now preserved at the Viking  Ship museum in Oslo.
Most of the Viking graves found in Britain are from cemeteries, after the raiders became settled and Christianised.
There is an intriguing rumoured Viking ship under a pub car park on the  Wirral, and there are many claimed earlier ship burial finds – including one almost a century ago on the Ardnamurchan peninsula.
But all of these had been disturbed or were ransacked by the people who stumbled on them, so none was properly recorded by archaeologists.
Years of work will follow on the new find, and may reveal whether the man who lay quietly in his ship for 1,000 years was a local resident, a sailor taking shelter from a storm or whether his body was brought specially to the beautiful site for burial.

Viking sólarsteinn navigation

Monday, 31st January, 2011

Did Vikings navigate by polarized light?
‘Sunstone’ crystals may have helped seafarers to find the Sun on cloudy days.

As highly skilled navigators, Vikings crossed thousands of kilometres of open sea.
A Viking legend tells of a glowing  ‘sunstone‘ that, when held up to the sky, revealed the position of the Sun even on a cloudy day. It sounds like magic, but scientists measuring the properties of light in the sky say that polarizing crystals — which function in the same way as the mythical sunstone — could have helped ancient sailors to cross the northern Atlantic. A review of their evidence is published today in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B.
The Vikings, seafarers from Scandinavia who travelled widely and settled in swathes of Northern Europe, the British Isles and the northern Atlantic from around 750 to 1050 AD, were skilled navigators, able to cross thousands of kilometres of open sea between Norway, Iceland and Greenland. Perpetual daylight during the summer sailing season in the far north would have prevented them from using the stars as a guide to their positions, and the magnetic compass had yet to be introduced in Europe — in any case, it would have been of limited use so close to the North Pole.
But Viking legends, including an Icelandic saga centring on the hero Sigurd, hint that these sailors had another navigational aid at their disposal: a sólarsteinn, or sunstone.
The saga describes how, during cloudy, snowy weather, King Olaf consulted Sigurd on the location of the Sun. To check Sigurd’s answer, Olaf “grabbed a sunstone, looked at the sky and saw from where the light came, from which he guessed the position of the invisible Sun” In 1967, Thorkild Ramskou, a Danish archaeologist, suggested that this stone could have been a polarizing crystal such as Icelandic spar, a transparent form of calcite, which is common in Scandinavia.
Light consists of electromagnetic waves that oscillate perpendicular to the direction of the light’s travel. When the oscillations all point in the same direction, the light is polarized. A polarizing crystal such as calcite allows only light polarized in certain directions to pass through it, and can appear bright or dark depending on how it is oriented with respect to the light.

Scattering by air molecules in the atmosphere causes sunlight to become polarized, with the line of polarization tangential to circles centred on the Sun. So Ramskou argued that by holding a crystal such as calcite up to the sky and rotating it to check the direction of polarization of the light passing through it, the Vikings could have deduced the position of the Sun , even when it was hidden behind clouds or fog, or was just beneath the horizon.
Historians have debated the possibility ever since, with some arguing that the technique would have been pointless, because it would only work if the crystal was pointed at patches of clear sky, and in such conditions it would be possible to estimate the position of the Sun with the naked eye, for example from the bright lining of cloud tops.
Gábor Horváth, an optics researcher at Eötvös University in Budapest, and Susanne Åkesson, a migration ecologist from Lund University, Sweden, have been testing these assumptions since 2005. The special issue of   Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B in which their review appears is dedicated to biological research on polarized light.
In one study, the researchers took photographs of partly cloudy or twilight skies in northern Finland through a 180° fisheye lens, and asked  test subjects to estimate the position of the Sun. Errors of up to 99° led the researchers to conclude that the Vikings could not have relied on naked-eye guesses of the Sun’s position.
To check whether sunstones would work better, in 2005 they measured the polarization pattern of the entire sky under a range of weather conditions during a crossing of the Arctic Ocean on the Swedish icebreaker Oden.

The researchers were surprised to find that in foggy or totally overcast conditions the pattern of light polarization was similar to that of clear skies. The polarization was not as strong, but Åkesson believes that it could still have provided Viking navigators with useful information.
“I tried such a crystal on a rainy overcast day in Sweden,” she says. “The light pattern varied depending on the orientation of the stone.”
She and Horváth are now planning further experiments to determine whether volunteers can accurately work out the Sun’s position using crystals in various weather conditions.

Sean McGrail, who studied ancient seafaring at the University of Oxford, UK, before retiring, says that the studies are interesting but there is no real evidence to indicate that the Vikings actually used such crystals. “You can show how they could be used, but that isn’t proof,” he says. “People were navigating long before this without any instruments.”
Surviving written records indicate that Viking and early medieval sailors crossed the north Atlantic using the Sun’s position on clear days as a guide, in combination with the positions of coastlines, flight patterns of birds, migration paths of whales and distant clouds over islands, says Christian Keller, a specialist in North Atlantic archaeology at the University of Oslo. “You don’t need to be a wizard,” he says. “But you do need to combine a lot of different sorts of observations.”
Keller says he is “totally open” to the idea that the Vikings also used sunstones, but is waiting for archaeological evidence. “If we find a shipwreck with a crystal on board, then I would be happy,” he says.

Related update:

Sunstone Unearthed From Shipwreck

Not just the stuff of legend: Famed Viking ‘sunstone’ did exist, believe scientists

Captain Bligh’s voyage re-created

Friday, 16th July, 2010

The Bounty hunters: Recreating Captain William Bligh’s remarkable journey

Though seen as the villain of the infamous mutiny on the BountyCaptain William Bligh completed a remarkable journey after being set adrift, sailing 3,600 miles to safety with 18 men in a small boat. Now a crew of four have recreated his extraordinary feat.

IT IS considered one of the most famous open boat voyages in maritime history, completed amid arduous conditions alien to modern-day sailors. But after almost seven weeks at sea with only 18th-century nautical instruments to chart his course, an adventurer blessed with “the Scottish pioneering spirit” yesterday completed a re-enactment of Captain William Bligh‘s journey across the Pacific.

Don McIntyre, whose family originated from Inner Hebrides, described the “humbling” moment when he made landfall after the epic 3,600-mile trip.

With no modern navigation charts, or 21st century luxuries such as toilet paper or torches, the 55-year-old and three crew were ecstatic after completing the remarkable crossing, which began in Tonga on 9 April.

Heading west towards Fiji, they passed by Cape York on Australia’s northeastern tip before sailing into the Great Barrier Reef and the Torres Strait, arriving in the West Timor city of Kupang just six hours shy of the time set by Bligh and his 18 men.

“It was a very emotional moment when we finally completed a trip that’s been four years in the planning,” he said. “When we were out there on the sea, it felt like we were with Bligh, and we were racing him. I was reading his logbooks at every stage and it was amazing to think back 221 years ago. In the end, we were a few hours behind, but that’s OK, because he deserves the utmost respect for what he did.”

The original voyage in 1789 was sparked after Bligh and his men were cast adrift near the Tongan island of Tofua by mutineers on HMS Bounty. Without any maps, and with only the most meagre of provisions, he led the crew for 47 days across the Pacific, heading over the top of Australia towards the nearest European settlement. Only one of his men, attacked by Tongans, lost his life. The rest survived partly by catching fish and seabirds and drinking rainwater.

The original mutineers, led by Fletcher Christian, eventually settled on Pitcairn Island in the South Pacific, where they burned Bligh’s ship, the Bounty, sinking its hull so they could not be found.

About 50 of their descendants still live on the remote island, now overseen by Britain, which governs it as its last remaining territory in the Pacific.

Bligh described the voyage in a letter to his wife, written on 19 August, 1789, from “Coupang”, Timor. “I was earnestly sollicited by all hands to take them towards home & when I told them no hopes of relief remained… they all agreed to live on one ounce of Bread a day & a Jill of Water,” he wrote. “I therefore bore away for New Holland & Timor across a Sea but little known & in a small Boat deep loaded with 18 Souls, without a single Map of any kind & nothing but my own recollection & general knowledge of the situation of Places to direct us.”

This feat has been portrayed in novels, poems and in several Mutiny on the Bounty films starring Hollywood luminaries such as Clark Gable Marlon Brando, Charles Laughton and Anthony Hopkins.

The expedition led by Mr McIntyre marked the first time anyone has sailed the same course in the same way that Bligh did. Previous attempts in 1983 and 1990 both made use of almanacs and charts, and made unscheduled stopovers. Inspired by what he called the “greatest maritime journey in history,” Mr McIntyre decided he and his men would try to emulate the crossing as closely as possible. Their vessel, a replica of a traditional 18th century open timber whale boat measuring just 25ft long, carried the same rudimentary aids as used by Bligh, including a sextant and antique pocket watches. They survived on a similar diet, consisting mostly of raw fish and biscuits. The only concessions to the 21st century were a life raft and other essential safety equipment, along with a satellite link which allowed Mr McIntyre and his team to describe the Talisker Bounty Boat‘s journey on a blog. A GPS system, locked away from the crew, tracked the vessel’s progress every two hours.

“When I first had the idea, I wanted to get as close to Bligh as possible, and we’ve done that,” said McIntyre, who has previously sailed around the world and spent a year in isolation in the Antarctic. “What we’ve been through physically and emotionally, I think is pretty close. The trip was a real success.”

The Australian, whose grandparents Thomas and Mary emigrated from Skye in 1901, added that he felt buoyed throughout by his ancestors’ taste for adventure. “There’s definitely a bit of the Scottish pioneering spirit in me. It’s a hardy land in Skye and I think part of that is in me.”

His journey, which was sponsored by Talisker whisky and aims to raise around £150,000 for  The Sheffield Institute Foundation for Motor Neurone Disease, was not without its fraught moments. Mr McIntyre and his crew – Dave Pryce, David Wilkinson and 18-year-old Chris Wilde capsized no less than four times, and survived close encounters with hidden reefs. The captain even sustained a dislocated toe during one lairy spell, before being struck down by kidney stones. “One time we were almost killed. We were less than a minute or two from total disaster,” he revealed. “It was the middle of the night and an island popped up out of nowhere… the next thing we knew we were surrounded by breaking surf. We were very lucky to get out of that.”

Mr McIntyre now intends to write a book and help produce a documentary about his experience.

During the voyage, the crew also monitored sea life and water temperatures, which they will compare with the detailed log Bligh kept. At the moment, the Talisker’s captain is simply glad just be to be on dry land. “I just had some hamburgers and chips to eat and I’m feeling quite hyperactive,” he explained. “After weeks of ship’s biscuits it tasted pretty good.”

A RUM PERSONALITY

CAPTAIN William Bligh arrived back in London in March 1790, where was honourably acquitted at the court martial into the loss of the Bounty.

He remained in the Royal Navy and was given command of a number of ships.

However, in 1797, he was one of a number of captains whose crews were involved in the  Spithead mutiny over pay. Bligh was nicknamed “that Bounty b*****d.”

Bligh was involved in various sea battles, including the  Battle of Camperdown in 1797. He also served under Admiral Horatio Nelson at the Battle of Copenhagen in 1801.

His reputation as a firm disciplinarian led to him being appointed governor of New South Wales in 1805.

His confrontational style led to the Rum Mutiny in 1808, when he tried to curb the private trading ventures of influential settlers. After being arrested and deposed by rebels, Bligh fled to Hobart, Tasmania, but failed to win support to regain his position.

Despite events in Australia, Bligh was given backdated promotion becoming a rear-admiral in 1811 and was promoted again to vice-admiral in 1814.

Bligh died in London in December 1817.

SS Robin

Monday, 28th June, 2010

Steamship starts journey back to new London museum

THE SS ROBIN, the world’s last remaining steam coaster, is on its way back to London to become a floating museum in Docklands, after a two-year re-fit in Suffolk.
“This irreplaceable Grade 1 listed vessel is the only one left of her type, and will be saved for the nation while enjoying a new lease of life on the Thames as a museum and training centre,” said David Kampfner, one of the people behind the £1.9M refurbishment.
“This is a momentous occasion, marking a new chapter in her remarkable story.”
Built in Blackwall, London in 1890, the SS Robin served on the waves for 80 years, at first between the major ports of Britain and later along the coast of the basque country in northern Spain.
After it has been transported from Lowestoft today, it will be raised onto a pontoon, the centrepiece of a new museum that aims to “explore for the first time the interlinked stories of London’s industrialisation, trade, energy, commodities, migration, wealth creation, seafaring and shipbuilding,” as the  SS Robin website puts it.

WORLD’S OLDEST COMPLETE STEAMSHIP TAKES TO THE SKIES

Heritage boat building skills grant

Tuesday, 8th June, 2010

Heritage Boatyard receives £110K grant


The National Waterways Museum at Ellesmere Port (formerly the Boat Museum), in partnership with  National Historic Ships, has received £110k from Heritage Lottery Fund’s ‘Skills for the Future’ programme to help expand its successful Heritage Boatyard operation.
The funding means the museum will be able to employ more trainees, vastly increasing its ability to conserve its collection of historic canal boats.
Through the training programme, the trainees will develop skills in traditional boat building whilst helping to conserve boats listed on the  National Register of Historic Vessels (NRHV), a number of which are based at the National Waterways Museum at Ellesmere Port.
John Inch, Museum Manager, said: “It is absolutely fantastic to get this funding. It is vital to our ambition of creating a sustainable working boatyard at the Museum. As well as maintaining and restoring our historic boats, it will help us to keep these important heritage skills alive by allowing us to train more people.”
The Heritage Boatyard has been developed in partnership between  The Waterways Trust, the  Boat Museum Society, National Historic Ships and  West Cheshire College. The funding will pay for new trainees to work at a range of other sites including:
·  Windermere Steamboat Museum – working on a unique collection of leisure vessels listed on the NRHV
· Harker’s Yard Pioneer Skills Centre, Essex – helping maintain the sailing smack  Pioneer as well as restoring other historic vessels and building new craft


·  Project Boleh, Portsmouth – working on the conservation of Boleh, a junk yacht listed on the NRHV
·  Brinklow Boat Services – gaining experience of working with both metal and wood at this well-established boatyard John continued: “There is a serious shortfall of heritage boat building skills, especially in the inland waterways sector. By the end of their placements, the trainees will have undertaken extensive work on the collection of historic canal boats at the National Waterways Museum and will be highly competent in practical boat building skills and will be able to work on any project within the maritime and inland waterways heritage sector.
“The expansion of our working boatyard further broadens the appeal and relevance of the National Waterways Museum to today’s audiences. It is fantastic that visitors are able to see restoration work in action with young and old working together.”
Hannah Cunliffe, Policy & Project Manager for National Historic Ships, said: ‘The decline in skills and facilities to maintain the UK’s National Historic Fleet has been of growing concern to National Historic Ships and I am delighted that HLF has supported our joint application with the National Waterways Museum. This project will focus on the transfer of knowledge in heritage techniques and will develop associated accreditation to ensure that future generations have the necessary expertise to conserve our maritime heritage at the level its significance deserves’.

Royal Hospital Haslar skeletons

Saturday, 15th May, 2010

Sailors’ skeletons from Nelson’s navy among thousands at Haslar

A team of archaeologists who dug up skeletons in Gosport to reveal what life was like in Nelson’s navy will have their work shown on TV. Experts carried out an excavation at the former  Royal Hospital Haslar last May.

Now viewers will get to learn about some of the incredible stories behind the skeletons when the Channel 4 show Time Team is aired on Monday night.

Nelson’s Hospital: A Time Team Special will reveal what life was like in the navy hundreds of years ago.

Kim Duke, director of the Time Team special, said the forensic archaeology would give people a ‘fascinating’ insight into what life was like for men who served on warships hundreds of years ago.

She said: ‘The cemetery area was about nine acres, roughly the size of five football pitches.

‘Nobody knew how many were buried there.

‘The archaeologists exhumed some of the skeletons to analyse them.

‘They could tell what kind of diseases sailors had at the time, injuries they suffered.

‘It really gives a fascinating insight into life in Nelson’s navy.’

One of the skeletons analysed is believed to have suffered a long fall from the rigging of a ship, landing on the deck face first.

The skeleton has a broken jaw as well as five other broken bones.

Another shows a below-the- knee amputation.

Archaeologists believe the man would have died on the operating table as the point where the bone was cut off shows no sign of healing at all.

One grisly find was a skeleton which had its skull sawn in half.

The team believes this would have been carried out as part of a post-mortem examination.

The dig concluded that an estimated 8,000 bodies were buried at the site, many from Nelson’s navy and battles such as Trafalgar and Waterloo.

No grave stones or burial markers were used so it is impossible to identify the bodies.

Kim added: ‘The show offers an insight into the history of the hospital and also an interesting history of the British navy.’

A team from the  Centre for Archaeological and Forensic Analysis at Cranfield University carried out the excavation.

To learn more about the excavation watch the show on Monday at 9pm on Channel 4.

Antiquity: 2007 excavation

Update Time Team dig skeletons will be reburied

A university spokesman added: ‘The MoD has always intended to rebury any disturbed skeletons. The intention is to give them a proper navy burial later this year.’

HMS Colossus stern carving

Friday, 12th February, 2010

A RARE and priceless trophy of Admiral Nelson’s fleet which was salvaged from the deep waters off the Scilly Isles, may soon take pride of place on the islands.
The 3.3m elm carving of a man in neo-classical dress was recovered from the  HMS Colossus, one of Nelson‘s Mediterranean fleet, which ran aground near the islands in 1798.
Discovered in 2002, and described as one of the “most important historic carvings” by experts, it has been restored over the past few years.
However, it is now back on Scilly where it is hoped it can form the centrepiece of the collection of figureheads, known as Valhalla, on the island of Tresco.
Maritime historian and author Richard Larn said it was an amazing relic which would have originally adorned the upper port side of the ship’s stern.
“In the British context I would say it is probably one of the most important historic carvings that has been recovered from a shipwreck, it is top of the league in this country,” he said.
Bryher diver Mac Mace, together with archaeologist Kevin Camidge, raised the carving from its sandy grave at the wreck site off the uninhabited island of Samson.
For the past few years the carving has been with the Mary Rose Trust in Portsmouth where an islands’ initiative has paid for its restoration and conservation.
“We set up the Isles of Scilly Maritime Heritage Trust which raised enough money from donations, timeshare-owners and interested parties,” said Robert Dorrien Smith, who owns Tresco. “It’s now been restored to the point it is stable.”
The carving was returned to Scilly at the end of last year aboard the freighter Gry Maritha. Mr Dorrien Smith said it was currently in an “unflattering environment in a crate in a shed”.
He said the carving had to be treated in a different way to the current open-air collection of ship’s figureheads.
“The main difference is the Valhalla figureheads were mainly found on land, while the  Colossus has been lying under water all this time and has to be treated in a different way,” Mr Dorrien Smith said.
“One possibility for the Colossus carving is a special climate-controlled case, although the Mary Rose people say it would be much nicer if its not in a case.”
Mr Dorrien Smith said a bid to find funding to put the artefact at the centre of a special display with interpretive boards was now underway.
There may also be an approach to museums in London to loan other pieces which have been salvaged from Colossus.

English Heritage Report 2007

Survey Report 2001

Booklet

Debris Survey