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The Golden Hind

Whilst the origin of the Golden Hind is somewhat obscure, there is sufficient data available to enable us to present you with a reasonably accurate picture.

To start with, she is reputed to be a captured Portuguese merchantman - as such she would not have had a gun deck nor indeed a stem gallery, which did not become popular until the Navy was formed some 150 years later. However, as about half of all etchings and paintings show one, one was added in 1978. There are still many plans for ships of this period available, together with large numbers of etchings and paintings, and using the recorded weight and dimensions, this ship was built. However due to the old methods of constructions there are bound to be slight variations, as indeed there were then, from plans to the finished ship of the original, as the shipwrights tended to build in ratio i.e. four times the beam gives length and so on.

This was complicated still further by having limited tools, and to get the required strength, trees were grown to the shape of the ships - the grain being continuous made the construction extremely strong. Whole forests were planted for this purpose, saplings were pinned down to the rough shape of the vital parts and left to grow.

Examples of this can still be seen in the forest of Dean, Gwent, an old naval forest.

So the shipwright, having designed, would then go to the forest and select his timbers. Hopefully they would only have to be squared and fitted. This obviously gave rise to slight discrepancies; planks were sawn by cross-cut on a saw pit.

The shape of the traditional hull with the high poop deck makes her more vulnerable in high seas. Insurance rates prevent us sailing for pleasure, however, she has taken part in many television series and advertisements under the present ownership and whilst we have never sailed further than twenty miles from the coast, in the varying conditions encountered, not always good, never once has she given us cause for concern.

Ropes were another problem, the art of `laying' or twisting was not developed until much later, the flax fibres being laid parallel and whipped tightly.

As you can imagine ropes were prone to parting which explains why the crow's-nests were normally used for working the sails and have high rails to support the sailor when hauling on a yard. The yard was usually lowered for work that could not be done from the crow's-nest. Later, with the introduction of `laid' ropes, loot ropes were added to the yards and saved much work. These ships had very poor sailing qualities and would only sail with a following wind or at best on a reach (side wind) -- which brings us to steering.

The method of steering the larger Elizabethan ships was very interesting. The steering-wheel had not yet come into use, and the Tudor ships, whose poops were too high to allow a rudder post and too narrow for the necessary sweep of a tiller, used a device known as the whipstaff. The tiller came inboard through a slot in the stern at about the level of the main deck, and attached to its end was a vertical staff passing loosely through a roller fulcrum and acting as a lever in such a manner that when swung from side to side it transmitted the movement to the tiller. The helmsman stood on a low platform with his head and shoulders above the quarterdeck enclosed in a sort of hutch with an open front which allowed him a clear view forward.

This design is still used to this day. In its original form it gave limited steering, but bearing in mind that on `tacking' a ship could be on one course for days if not weeks, its main job was to keep the ship straight. On changing tack the ship would wear round with the wind, so very little movement was required. For radical changes in course, the spritsail played an important part - by pulling it round in line with the ship, the vessel could be pivoted. As the apparatus dominated the great cabin leaving very little room to move without cracking shins or hitting heads, it has been dismantled and instead a detailed plan is displayed on the quarter deck.

Voyages into tropical waters during Elizabeth's reign had called fresh attention to the importance of keeping ships' bottoms free from marine growths and in particular to the need of protection against the boring teredo worm. A sheathing of lead had been tried centuries earlier and discarded owing to its weight and to the fact that the iron nails used to fasten the lead sheets soon corroded. Elizabeth's shipwrights, however, devised a coating of pitch and chopped horsehair held in place by a thin sheathing of wood. The working of this device is given in a contemporary document which explains that the worm, having bored its way through the outer wood, "encountereth the pitch and hair the which it liketh not".

If the ship was in its original state, the visitor would find it most uninteresting, as every available space would be packed with barrels, sacks and stores. We have done our best to leave a representation of everything, whilst adding items of the period which we thought would be of interest.

For a start there would have been eighteen cannon. These would have ranged from the fore deck along the main deck and around the great cabin, continuing on the quarter-deck and taking up a great deal of space. Instead you will find 4 of the original size and period on the main deck, these being 3-pounders.

Early cannons were made by strip iron banded together. By the 16th century, one piece casting had been perfected although the rings were still indented in the castings to promote confidence in the gunners. These were now unnecessary as the thickness of the metal could now be varied accordingly to the various parts of the barrel. Even so, accidents of exploding barrels were not uncommon.

Shot and balls were made as they are today in a shot tower by pouring molten metal through a sieve into a well of water, the size of the mesh gave the size of the ball which were very rarely perfectly round and so a firing technique was developed which was:

Cannon ran back, every three or four shots, barrel reamered to remove deposits, swabbed with water to prevent premature firing, charge inserted, a rope grommet. to give a good seal, then the shot, each being rammed home separately.

The gun was "hooked up" to prevent run-back on recoil, the primary charge, gunpowder, poured down the touchhole and ignited.

Rows of barrels would be placed under the overhang of every deck for the collection of rainwater. On land, apart from the gentry who had their private wells, there were only the communal village streams. It was considered far too dangerous to supply the ship from these. A beer was brewed just strong enough to be antiseptic, and as well as supplying ships, babies were weaned on it; in fact it was Drake who first piped in fresh spring water to Plymouth for this very purpose. On leaving port the ship would have been victualled with salt beef and pork, biscuits, and as much livestock to be slaughtered on passage as possible. Fishing was a constant necessity. Rats were another source of protein and were allowed to breed freely - it is interesting to note that the flea from the black rat carried the Bubonic Plague around the world for hundreds of years; in fact, it was not until the Navy was formed and they discovered that the grey rat multiplied and grew fatter, faster and proved to be a natural enemy of the black rat, that the scourge was mainly wiped out. At about the same time the idea of hammocks was imported from the Hawaiian islands and became standardised for crews but more of that later.

Cooking was virtually unknown, mainly because of shortage of fuel and the fire risk. When a lire was lit, it was usually on a tray of sand on deck. Priority was given to melting pitch for caulking rigging and candle making, any remaining embers might be used for boiling a primitive stew.

"There was no provision made for sleeping, the sailors just slept on sails, sacks of soft stores, coils of rope, etc. Washing was considered unhealthy, and was not helped by the shortage of water. When it is remembered that there were eighty men aboard, the stench below decks can only be imagined. To add to their discomfort, one can add salt water sores, scurvy and rickets, as well as the common toothache and these arc but a few of a long list of problems to be lived with.

So who were the men who were prepared to put up with these conditions - convicts, rogues, vagabonds? Not a bit of it, everyone was a willing volunteer, in fact, each place could have probably been filled a dozen times over. One must not forget the conditions ashore at this period; if life was hard at sea, was it easier ashore?

It was very much the land of the rich and the poor, with very little in between. For the poor, starvation, malnutrition, rickets and many other ailments took their toll. The average expectancy of life was around forty-five years, average height was about 5 feet 4 inches and the mortality rate in infants was very high. Most people lived in very little better than stone or mud huts, each day being a struggle for survival, particularly in winter. Punishment for minor offences such as poaching was very harsh, often leading to death. It is against this background that a privateer sailed - the ship being nothing less than a licensed pirate where the crew was paid a percentage of the plunder. Under a good Captain, money could be made, and they would be assured of food and clothes for most of the time; so is it any wonder at the rush to join the ship? But why eighty? Let us look at the crew in some detail, starting with the officers. These would number about ten, and of them it is likely that only the Captain and his apprentice would know anything about the running of the ship. The others would be young gallants of wealth, who would put money into the ship for the adventure and profit. The amount staked would decide whether they were entitled to have the colours of their coat of arms painted on the side of the ship. The Golden Hind carried the colours of Queen Elizabeth I, Sir Francis Drake and Sir Christopher Hatton, the main financiers of this particular voyage.

Apart from the Captain who had a cabin on the poop, the officers were expected to live in the great cabin measuring some 30 feet long and 18 feet wide at the widest point, together with their sea chests, cannons, steering gear and stores. Regarding the other seventy - as in today's Navy, only a handful of men were actually required to sail the ship, the rest being employed in a fighting capacity, either to defend the ship or attack the enemy. Of these without doubt the most important would be the sail-maker, the carpenter, the gunner, the drummer and of course the musician. The sail-maker, besides being responsible for the sails, also clothed the crew, repaired and made storage sacks. The carpenter would be capable of very nearly rebuilding the ship. All these ships were `pot bellied' enabling them to be beached on a desert island, the hull would be scraped and maybe a plank scarfed in and the ship floated off on the new tide. The gunner's skill was very important, gunnery was still in its infancy, the average shot weighed some 3 lb and had a range of 300 yards; chain shot was common to bring down the rigging and thus slow the enemy up and enable the captor to overpower, hence the large crew. Gunpowder was considered far too dangerous to be carried as such, so was loaded as sulphur, charcoal and saltpetre and was mixed as required. It was the gunner's skill that decided whether the shot went out of the barrel or the gun exploded.

Many orders were given in a form of code, beaten out on a drum which could be heard all over the ship in all but the fiercest battle; and this continued well on into the nineteenth century. Nowadays it is only used on ceremonial occasions.

The musician helped to boost the morale of the crew during the many monotonous months at sea, his usual instrument being a simple fife which could easily be replaced from scraps of wood. A favourite place to squat would be on the belaying pin rail abaft the main mast so that the officers could enjoy his efforts as well. This became known as the `fife rail', a term still used to this day.

These important people were very rarely exposed to danger and were usually given the safest part of the ship in times of' battle or storm. The fact that only thirty souls were lost in the three-year voyage was hailed as a great achievement. The dimensions of the Golden Hind were 90 feet on the waterline, 120 feet overall, 18 feet beam, 9 feet draft, with a displacement of 120 tons. On first sight she may appear to be small for such an epic voyage, but in fact she was quite large by English standards - the smallest ship in Drake's fleet being the Swan with a displacement of only 25 tons, Added to this, in modem times, boats of 18 feet crossing the Atlantic are now so common they no longer rate a mention; whilst the smallest on record (as far as known) is the Sea Egg of only 7 feet, which made a successful passage and was exhibited outside the Daily Mirror offices in the fifties.

In no way does this undermine Drake's achievement -- a, the modern boats are built as far as possible in the shape of a watertight capsule and navigation is a now science. whereas in the fifteenth century, witchcraft and sorcery were believed in, with ;.I very real fear of demons and monsters for the unwary crew, and there was still a very strong school of thought which believed that the earth was flat. It is overcoming the fear of the unknown that takes the greatest courage, and it is ships; like the Golden hind that played such an important part in giving us our heritage.

The art of navigation had advanced considerably under Elizabeth's encouragement. Charts, rather crude as yet, were in general use. The mariner's compass had long passed the suspended lodestone stage which later became a magnetic needle floated in a bowl of water, and become a pivoted needle with a card properly marked in degrees and in a balanced mounting. The astrolabe and nocturnal, with which the mariner fixed his position by observation of the heavenly bodies, were scientific instruments of a high degree of accuracy. The cross-staff used for taking the altitude of the sun was a simple and effective apparatus. With the use of these latitude could be found but longitude was less easy, because the one thing lacking was a reliable timekeeper. The only thing that Elizabethan seamen had to tell them the time was a sand-glass which usually ran for half an hour. And what with a possible error of a few seconds in the running; the delay in turning it every half-hour, or the worse sin of a lazy seaman who `flogged the clock', that is, turned it too soon in order to shorten his watch, the error in a ship's time at the end of a long voyage might well run into hours.

The Astrolabe was made in two parts, the outer ring being graduated in degrees. The arm, pivoted in the centre, had two projections, each with a precision drilled hole, holding the instrument by the ring, found in its own centre of gravity, the arm adjusted to sight a number of known star: and readings taken on each, a rough position could be calculated.

The cross staff is in tour sections, the main shaft has a graduated brass strip the entire length with three predetermined lockable cross staves. The appropriate stave was selected and slid up the shaft until the tips were in line with the edge of the sun and horizon and then locked. A reading was then taken, giving the distance travelled in 24 hours. The accuracy of the instrument depended on the operation being carried out at the same time each day.

The Tudor period was the most outstanding in the history of ships, for it saw, in the relatively short space of 100 years, more notable improvements in ship design than have taken place since in the same length of time. The world had been widened by discovery and sea-trade firmly established. Science was coming to the help of the shipwright, and when, in 1600, Elizabeth granted a charter to the East India Company, formed by a body of gentlemen-adventurers to trade with the East, its ships were no longer built by rule of thumb. When Elizabeth died in 1603 she left a Navy of 42 well-found ships up to 1000 tons, and an England which was paramount on the sea.

Francis Drake's Biography : World Voyage








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