I live by the sea, maybe live for the sea, on an island in the tidal River Medway. Just downstream of the historic Chatham Naval Dockyard - where Nelson's Victory was built. For me the sea is about freedom and exploration - both personal and geographical. Stargazer is a 31' sloop; and companion on my journey
Sunday, 25 November 2012
VOYAGE to VICTORY
MEET MISSEE LEE
Missee Lee is a 25’ (British) Hunter. She was my first
cruising boat. I berthed her at Woolverstone, on the River Orwell, for four years. When I set up home in Poole, I sailed her
south during a spring cruise.
The cruise developed a “Victory” theme. We sailed up the
Medway and found a berth at Victory Moorings – in the midst of the Historic Chatham
Dockyard. In Portsmouth we tied up opposite HMS Victory herself.
Missee Lee’s connection with tall ships didn’t end with her
arrival at her new berth in Poole. We spotted many a square rigged ship in the
harbour itself, off St Alban’s head, or on passage from Poole
VICTORY MOORINGS, CHATHAM
HMS Gannet. Rapier bowed; Built for speed; Built for Gunboat
diplomacy; Built to hold station at sea when larger craft were running for
Powered by sail and steam; Fleet footed whatever the weather.
Framed in iron and planked in teak; A Victorian composite.
Her career started in the Pacific during the guano wars. She
suffered the ignominy of conversion to a cadet accommodation ship in later
years. Now she is restored to her former glory. Men are back in her tops. A
crane sways up her yards.
HMS VICTORY, PORTSMOUTH
A bluff bowed “wooden wall,” from an age of floating castles. Planked with New Forest oak,two feet thick, at her waterline
A pugnacious bulldog of the seas.
Victory's sides bristle with 106 cannon. The bulldog has bark and bite. One gun deck is set
close above another. There is no height for a man to stand 'tween decks. 850 sailors
packed this space; Living, eating, sleeping, fighting, dying in this dark, pitching,
rolling, damp and airless world.
In the battles of
Ushant, Cape St Vincent and Trafalgar these gun decks were filled with smoke, men,
cannon, flying shards of timber, a cacophony of sound, gore; the chaos of battle. A brutal, point
blank, bludgeoning, eviscerating, ship to ship, hand to hand, crushing, warfare
Nelson, master tactician, commands from the Great Cabin. Compared to the ‘tween decks, an oasis of light and order. Brains over
brawn; his slight figure leads the might of the battle fleet.
In his hour of victory, at Trafalgar, Nelson is felled by a
musket ball. A sniper, perched high in the enemy rigging, fires the fatal shot. A poignant silver disk, let into the deck, marks the spot, once puddled with Nelson's life blood.
Nelson and Victory sail into British Folk and Naval history. Nelson to his rest in St Paul's Cathedral; Victory to her's in, Victory Dock, Portsmouth Naval Dockyard.