28 February 2012

Tuesday Talk - Three Ships In One

The Rose, The Surprise, The Sea Witch .... 
Three beautiful ships become one beautiful ship

When I originally started writing my Sea Witch series my intention was not to write a series but a one-off adventure novel. I had not bargained on falling for my pirate captain, Jesamiah Acorne  – nor on the character becoming so popular with readers. I wrote Pirate Code as a follow on, and then Bring It Close – which features Blackbeard and explains what really happened to the dastardly fellow. My Jesamiah was responsible for his demise – although Jesamiah made it quite clear that nowhere was his name to be written down concerning his part in the matter. Which is why you will find nothing in the official records.
That is the fun thing about writing fiction – you can quite believably make it up!

In the first Voyage – Sea Witch – I based the star vessel (Sea Witch) partly on the Whydah and partly on Blackbeard’s Queen Anne’s Revenge, because there is a lot of information about both through the discovery of both wrecks. But I did not feel happy with this – neither of them were quite what I wanted for the  Sea Witch.

Then I discovered The Rose, the movie Master and Commander and John F. Miller of Colonial Williamsburg, more or less all at once.
The connection? The replica of the Rose was built by Mr Millar, and she was used as HMS Surprise in the movie. If it is possible to fall in love with an inanimate object, I was in love with a tall ship.

The replica Rose has now been officially re-named as HMS Surprise and is (more or less) permanently moored at San Diego Maritime Museum. http://www.sdmaritime.org/hms-surprise/

She was built at Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, Canada in 1970 by John Millar, http://newporthousebb.com/host/your_host.html based on original 18th century British Admiralty drawings and had a 15-year career of successful adventure/sail-training on the East Coast into the Great Lakes, and the Caribbean, as well as one summer in Europe, educating up to 31 subscribed trainees per week ranging in  ages from 8 to 80.

She was sold to 20th Century Fox in 2001 for the making of Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, starring Russell Crowe, the movie being based on several of the books by Patrick O'Brian. The ship was then purchased by the Maritime Museum of San Diego which restored her to full sailing condition and re-registered her as HMS Surprise in honour of her film role. In 2010, she portrayed HMS Providence in the Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides.

The original  Rose was a 20 gun sixth-rate frigate, built in  Hull, England.

HMS Rose (1757) http://www.tallshiprose.org
Ordered:          13 April 1756  (my birthday 13th April 1953!)
Builder:            Hugh Blaydes, Hull, England
Laid down:       5 June 1756
Launched:        8 March 1757
Fate:    Scuttled on 19 September 1779 in Savannah, Georgia.
Class and type:            20-gun sixth-rate post ship
Tons burthen: 449 bm
Length:             108 ft 11.5 in (33.2 m) (gundeck)
90 ft 10.25 in (27.7 m) (keel)
Beam:  30 ft 6 in (9.3 m)
Draught:          9 ft 7 in (2.9 m)
Sail plan:          Full-rigged ship
Complement:  160
Armament:      20 × 9 pdrs

In the Seven Years' War, Rose was in service in the English Channel and in the Caribbean. This was a global military war involving most of the great powers of the time and affecting Europe, North America, Central America, the West African coast, India, and the Philippines. Driven by antagonism because of overlapping trade between Great Britain and France and Spain the war was characterised by sieges and arson of towns as well as open battles involving heavy losses of some 900,000 to 1,400,000 people. The war ended in 1763.

In 1768, Rose was sent to the North America. Her activities in suppressing smuggling in the colony of Rhode Island provoked the formation of what became the Continental Navy, precursor of the American Navy.
Under the command of Sir James Wallace, in 1774, Rose was in the Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island, to end the smuggling that had made Newport the fourth wealthiest city in America. Rose was larger than American vessels of the time, and Wallace was a capable commander, in consequence the smuggling came to a standstill, which severely affected the Newport economy. Rhode Island's merchants petitioned the colonial legislature to deal with Wallace’s interference. Providing money for the fitting out of a merchant vessel for naval service, the American Navy was born. This first vessel was commissioned as the sloop of war Providence, which became the command of John Paul Jones. On 4 May 1776 Rhode Island declared Independence from Britain - two full months before the rest of the Colonies and the outbreak of the American War of Independence – this was not, as many of us erroneously believe here in Britain, initiated because of the famous event of throwing the tea overboard at the Boston Tea Party. It all began because of Rose.

In July 1776 the Rose played a large part in the British invasion of New York state, firing on fortifications and making forays up the Hudson River. In Britain, Wallace was knighted for  helping to drive George Washington and his troops from New York. Rose also patrolled the northeast coast of America pressing sailors from merchant vessels and acquiring provisions for the British garrison mustered at Boston.

Rose met her end in 1779 when the British were occupying Savanah, Georgia. She was deliberately scuttled in a narrow part of the channel, blocking it. The French fleet was therefore unable to assist the American assault, and Savannah remained in British hands until the end of the war.

Technically, my Sea Witch is not correct for the period I have set her in – the series of Voyages will span from 1715 to at least 1726, possibly even later, depending on the continuing popularity of the books. The design of the Rose, as stated above, was produced in 1757, when several differences had been incorporated – a copper keel for one, and the Dolphin Striker - a short gaff (a wooden spar) under the cap (a strong block of wood to hold two pieces of mast together) of the bowsprit (the spar that sticks out at the front, like a pointing finger) for securing the jib-boom (the outer extension of the bowsprit). The Dolphin Striker is also called a martingale, which refers to the ropes* that connect it to the jib-boom - which should be of interest to horse riders who will be familiar with the piece of harness called a martingale: straps that connect from the girth to the bridle, and thus aid control of the horse.
(* see comments below - I have been taken to task by using the incorrect word 'rope')

So for all scenes set aboard Sea Witch, you could, as easily, be aboard the Rose or HMS Surprise – the only difference, the hull of Sea Witch is painted blue, and her Great Cabin is of light oak panels, with intricate carvings of acorns and oak leaves. And Captain Acorne does not run his ship to strict navy rules – well he wouldn’t, until he received a pardon of amnesty and became co-erced into helping the British Governmen, one way or another as a spy, he was a notorious pirate.

And if you want to know more about him – or Sea Witch…. Well, you could always read the books!

The Sea Witch Voyages published by SilverWood Books
Sea Witch - Voyage One: Helen Hollick
Pirate Code - Voyage Two: Helen Hollick
Bring It Close - Voyage Three:  Helen Hollick
 available from
in hard copy and on Kindle, Nook, etc

The Revolution at Sea Saga : James L. Nelson (based on the start of the War of Independence and the formation of the American Navy) published by Corgi Books
By Force of Arms
The Maddest Idea
Lords of the Ocean
The Continental Risque
All the Brave Fellows

The Jack Aubrey books of Patrick O’Brian published by Harper Collins


A Sea of Words Dean King Henry Holt
The Sailor’s Word Book  Admiral W.H. Smyth Conway Maritime Press
Jack Aubrey Commands Brian Lavery Conway Maritime Press
The Making of Master and Commander Tom McGregor Harper Collins
The Frigate Surprise Brian Lavery & Geoff Hunt  Conway

George Washington’s Secret Navy   James L. Nelson McGraw Hill
George Washington’s Great Gamble       “                       “

I hope you'll come back tomorrow for my new weekly feature:
Wednesday’s Words 


  1. Very nice post. It is interesting to hear of how you came to find your ship..or Acorne's ship. The discussion of the martingale was also interesting but then you lost me when you wrote of it being secured by 'ropes'. Please, lines always aboard...though there are some ropes, these are few and far between including the footropes for standing on while on the yards - which also contain some equine lingo as they are separated by stirrups. If you have ever been aloft furling sail while pitching along you can certainly feel as though you are riding a horse!

  2. Hello "Unknown" thanks for leaving a comment. Yes I am well aware that "ropes" is not correct(as you say, the term lines, cordage etc is always used aboard) but the majority of people reading my Blog are only familiar with "rope" - and I confess I was too lazy to go into detail (plus I thought the article was long enough as it is)so I used "rope".

    I was talking to a novelist who has written nautical based fiction and she said her publisher directed her to use "familiar" terms not nautical ones to make the reading experience less arduous for the reader (I think she particularly mentioned that her publisher advised her not to use "hawser". Being honest here? I think that is a little patronising to the reader.
    I must add that I am not a sailing person, I have no connection with the sea or ships, which is a huge disadvantage when writing a nautical-based series, but as most fiction is all made up anyway.... #laugh. It worries me that I have to research all the nautical facts -and be guided by those, like yourself, who know about these things, but all I can do is rely on my skill as a story teller and the charisma of my characters. Not knowing or using the correct terms, however, does not in any way diminish the enthusiasm and pleasure for the subject matter.


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