MORE to BROWSE - Pages that might be of Interest

22 August 2013

Weigh Anchor For A Voyage On A Nautical Blog Hop

A Sea Witch, a Surpriseand a Rose by any other name...

Some fabulous writers have got together for an exciting Blog Hop: a selection of interesting articles on a nautical theme. Please do read (and enjoy!) my contribution (part one, with parts two and three to follow) and then browse the list of 'crew' aboard the Blog Hop listed below. 
Plus! Leave a comment for a chance to win one of my books!

Part One : Sea Witch
(scroll down for PART TWO and PART THREE)
I know nothing about ships or sailing. Apart from the Cutty Sark, the Victory and a few lesser-known  vessels that were firmly moored to shore I haven’t been aboard a Tall Ship in my life. Certainly not one that was actually sailing. I have sailed in a Mirror dinghy, but even then I just sat there and tried to keep dry. And it was only on a lake. On a fine sunny day. I can row though. Does that count as one point towards being an unable seaman?
So why on earth (on sea?) did I decide to write a series of nautical pirate-based novels – the Sea Witch Voyages
Ruling out I must be mad, I blame it all on Johnny Depp and that Sparrer Feller.

I, like many another, adored the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie; The Curse of the Black Pearl (I’m afraid I didn’t think much of the other subsequent movies though.) It was a sailor’s yarn. A tale of fantasy and daring-do with a loveable rogue for a hero, crammed with swashbuckling adventure and oozing romance. Fantastic entertainment. It wasn’t meant to be historically, or nautically, accurate.  (No Jack, you can’t sail the Interceptor all on yer oncey!) The movie intrigued me – what was accurate? What was the truth behind the real pirates of the Caribbean in the early 18th century?

Being interested in history (and an established writer of historical fiction) and with a week’s vacation approaching I decided to do some research, on the surface stuff, reading a few interesting-looking books. I picked up three: Nigel Cawthorne’s A History of Pirates; Peter Earle’s The Pirate Wars and David Cordingly’s Life Among the Pirates (I now have many more books!). They were all a fascinating read, but what primarily ran through my mind was ‘What a superb story this would all make.’ Following this thought was the desire to read some fiction about pirates. Something like P.O.C.#1 with a charmer of a scruffy hero (drop dead gorgeous, of course) an exciting adventure, a love-interest sub-plot and something with an element of fantasy included. It was the skeleton ghosts that added to the movie; Barbosa and crew added that tingling dash of the ‘yarn’ element. It’s not true but it’s fun.

There are nautical novels a-plenty (see Julian Stockwin aboard this Blog Hop for one) and pirate novels to boot (see James L. Nelson for two  – loved his Brethren of the Coast series! And there are several other very good authors on this Hop!) but  none of these novels have fantasy or magic in them, they are all serious nautical fiction, and, mostly, about men at sea. Hornblower, for instance, has  few ‘female’ scenes, but there’s very little for a female reader to identify with – possibly because many of the older nautical-type stories were written when there was a finer definition between fiction for men and fiction for women (back in the days when the ladies read Romance, and the men read Cowboy or War Stories – or nautical fiction.) Thankfully that has changed now, but still, I wanted a pirate fix. I wanted an adventure ride. Wanted more of Captain Sparrow. I couldn’t find anything.
So I wrote my own.

Captain Jesamiah Acorne, his ‘love interest’ - a white witch, Tiola - the plot, the minor characters et al were conceived beneath a grey-sky, beside an even greyer-sea on the coast of Dorset, England. I also had the name of my star character, the ship herself – Sea Witch. Now all I had to do was write the story – which turned out to be easy as it wrote itself. The words poured from me like seawater through the scuppers. I even wrote over the Christmas period, only stopping on Christmas Day.

The hard part was researching enough sailing detail to not make the story seem a nonsense. In my book Jesamiah could definitely not sail Sea Witch on his oncey!  Then I saw the movie Master & Commander. HMS Surprise was ‘played’ by a replica ship,  Rose – and I fell in love all over again, only this time not with a pirate played by a handsome actor, but with a ship.

I had the good fortune for author James L. Nelson to edit the sailing bits for me  (all errors are mine, not his) I owe him another debt, too, for he had introduced me to the Rose; the replica ship, that is, not the original! Jim sailed aboard her for a while, and when I decided to visit Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia for research I asked him if he knew of any good B & B places. He directed me to John Fitzhugh Millar, who runs Newport House with his wife, Cathy. John was responsible for building the Rose

My original intention had been to model Sea Witch on the Whydah or Queen Anne’s Revenge, but the plan never gelled. It did not seem right to use either of them as a ‘template’ for Sea Witch. Rose/Surprise, however, fitted my imagination like a glove.
Except she was built several years after the period that the Sea Witch Voyages are set – 1715 to about 1725 (can’t say for definite yet – I have only written the first four Voyages in the series!) But then my series is part fantasy, it is fiction and it is not meant to be taken seriously. Light hearted fun read –  a sailor’s yarn of magic at sea… with a handsome hero, a beautiful woman and a treasure chest of adventure to enjoy. 
Well, hopefully.

Part Two : Rose

Moored in San Diego, California is a beautiful ship -  she is a replica of HMS Rose,  an 18th century Royal Navy frigate that was, in part, responsible for the outbreak of the American War of Independence and cruised the American coast during the Revolutionary War.
The replica was built in Nova Scotia in 1970 by Newport Historian, and resident of Colonial Williamsburg, John Fitzhugh Millar, using original construction drawings from 1757 obtained from the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, England. From 1985 to 2001 she operated as a sail-training vessel and in 2003 starred as HMS Surprise in the 20th Century Fox movie Master and Commander: Far Side of the World. She is now officially called Surprise – but in this second part of my article, I will call her Rose.

The original Rose was built in Hull, England in 1757.  In naval history all  ships were divided by ‘rates,’ a First Rate being the largest carrying 100-110 guns on three individual gundecks. Rose was a sixth rate ship, being the smallest class and commanded by someone with the rank of Captain. A frigate’s duty was to be a scout ship for the fleet and to patrol the coasts of any enemy country during the time of war, Rose would not have participated in any engagements except to relay messages through the fleet. In 1768 Rose was sent to America, which was a Colony of Great Britain, to patrol the eastern coastline where high taxes were causing unrest - and in 1774, command by James Wallace, she sailed to Narragansett Bay in Rhode Island to put an end to the extensive smuggling which was making Newport one of the wealthiest cities in America - the wealth being amassed due to not paying many taxes!

Rhode Island held a charter of self-government dating back to the time of King Charles, which meant this was the only Colony permitted to appoint its own Governor and customs agents. Combined with the natural protection of Narragansett Bay, this allowed merchants of Rhode Island to broker lucrative trade deals, even during the disruption of the French & Indian war.

America had no navy of its own at that time, Wallace was an efficient Captain and Rose was much larger than any American vessel. Wallace soon destroyed the smuggling and the economy of Newport was decimated to such a degree that four-fifths of the population fled inland. The merchants petitioned their Colonial legislature -  relocated to Providence - to create a navy to deal with Cpt Wallace (regarded as a pirate!) and provided money for  refitting a merchant vessel, the square tops'l sloop Katy, for naval service. Renamed Providence, she became the first naval command of John Paul Jones.

On May 4th 1776 Rhode Island was responsible for initiating the Declaration of Independence by declaring independence from Britain, two full months before the rest of the Colonies. It is often widely believed (especially in the UK) that the famous ‘Boston Tea Party’ where a cargo of tea was thrown overboard in Boston Harbour as a protest against the payment of taxes started the American War of Independence. In fact, it was the petitioning to Congress to form a Continental Navy in order to rid Narragansett Bay of the Rose, and the subsequent creation of an American Navy which fanned the flames of unrest among the Colonies. American Independence  is therefore due to the efficiency of HMS Rose and Captain James Wallace!

In July of 1776  Rose played a part in the British attack of New York by shelling  the land-based fortification and making forays up the Hudson River. Captain Wallace was later knighted for helping to drive George Washington from the city. Rose finally met her end in 1779 in Georgia, which was occupied by the British. The French, fighting on the side of the Americans, sent a fleet up the Savannah River and the British scuttled Rose in a narrow part of the channel, effectively blocking any advance along  the waterway. She was eventually destroyed after the war. An inglorious end to a valiant vessel.

PART THREE - meet HMS Surprise!

The movie Master & Commander – The Far side of the World is (in my humble opinion) the best movie ever (ranked next to my second and third favourite Last of the Mohicans and Pirates of the Caribbean – Curse of the Black Pearl. ) I think many off us ‘fall’ for actors and actresses, those drop-dead gorgeous eye-candy males and stunningly beautiful ladies. In M&C I didn’t drool over its star, Russell Crowe, I was awestruck by the ship: the replica of HMS Rose (see part one and two above.) After the movie, in 2004, Rose was renamed for her screen-character HMS Surprise and found a new home at the Maritime Museum of San Diego.

The movie is adapted from the novels HMS Surprise and The Far Side of the World by maritime author Patrick O’Brian, it is a 2003 drama co-written and directed by Peter Weir and stars Russell Crowe as Jack Aubrey, with Paul Bettany as Stephen Maturin and was  released by 20th Century Fox, Miramax Films and Universal Studios.
At the 76th Academy Awards, the film was nominated for 10 Oscars, including Best Picture. It won in two categories, Best Cinematography and Best Sound Editing but lost out in the other categories to The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.

The action takes place in 1805, during the era of the Napoleonic Wars. Captain ‘Lucky Jack’ Aubrey of HMS Surprise is ordered to pursue a  French privateer Acheron, and ‘Sink, Burn, or take her a Prize.’ Following the privateer south, Surprise rounds Cape Horn and heads to the Galapagos Islands, where Aubrey is sure Acheron will prey on Britain's whaling fleet. The ship's doctor, Maturin, is interested in the islands' fauna and flora and Aubrey promises his friend some exploration time, but they find survivors of a destroyed whaler and go instead after the Acheron. Surprise is damaged twice by her foe, and Maturin is accidentally shot before the final battle between the two ships.

Perhaps more intriguing than the superb plot and acting is the attention to detail. I have been reliably informed that there is only one ‘error’ on board this movie – the rope (cordage) used to film the scene where an unfortunate crewman falls overboard and the rigging he is clinging to has to be cut free, is modern rope. If that is the only blooper then I think it can be lived with!

These are Suprise’s specifications:
Rig - Full Rigged Ship  
Length Overall - 179 feet
Length On Deck - 135 feet
Height of Main Mast - 130 feet
Displacement - 500 tons
Sail Area - 13,000 sq feet
Draft - 13 feet
Beam - 32 feet

I thought you might like to round of this most enjoyable Blog Hop by watching some  You Tube videos of Surprise… enjoy!

 HMS Surprise

The tall ship HMS Surprise went out sailing for a commercial 
and The Parade of Ships in Festival of Sail. 
Her crew uses the same techniques sailors in the 19th century 
would have used to set sail. 
Videography and editing by Sarah Marcotte
Shots from aloft by Art Pryor

HMS Surprise off the coast of San Diego in 2008.
Filmed from the yacht, "Medea."

I so hope you have enjoyed our nautical Blog Hop the authors who have come aboard have shared a variety of nautical-based articles from Roman Galleys to women masquerading as men via dastardly pirates. Why not weigh anchor with us for this last day of our voyage and set sail for other Ports of Call where a warm welcome awaits in harbour for you!

Buy the Books
Amazon US
Amazon UK

Crew Members 'oo were aboard the Blog Hop
original photo 'Instow Beach' Simon Murgatroyd
Helen Hollick's website: 
for full information about all her books.

Thank you for Voyaging with the Blog Hop!