Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Writing tall ships tales - leaning to fact or fiction?

Sailing a coffin ship to the Horn (several times)
Fiction writers of tall ship tales lean towards swashbuckling adventures - mutinous men and cruel and tyrannical captains. Most are set at the times of the Napoleonic Wars. They make for exciting reading and have a huge following.
Having just finished FitzRoy, I can see that only an immensely capable seaman could have embarked on, and completed so successfully, the five year circumnavigation, as FitzRoy did in HMS Beagle in the 1830s.
Originally rigged as a brigantine, the Beagle fell into the category known as a coffin ship. They were ungainly vessels which easily turned turtle. They also lay low in the water and were prone to heavy seas sweeping over the deck.
Fitzroy knew this and on accepting the commission, he added a third mast, (for increased manoeuvrability, thereby converting the vessed into a barquentine.
After spending almost five years in undoubtedly some of the roughest waters in the world, the Beagle returned to England having not lost a single spar. That was due entirely to the Captain's meticulous care and caution.
Only five men died during the five year period, one from old age, one from a shooting accident and three of fever while on shore in Rio. Not a man onboard was not full of admiration for FitzRoy.

Note: When I wrote the nautical section of Sea Dust, I was advised by an acadmic that there wasn't enough blood and guts in my manuscript and that my Captain was too mild mannered.
I'm pleased to say I stuck to my guns.
But as I mentioned, the stories which sell - from Treasure Island to Captain and Commander -are riddled with ever manner of disaster.
Perhaps I should change tack - adopt a male pseudonmy and head back out with all guns blazing.
The idea has crossed my mind more than once.
Photo: Barquentine, STS Leeuwin, sailing the Indian Ocean off Western Australia - M Muir


peter said...

Hi Margaret, you may yet get the chance to see an HMS Beagle for yourself: we're fundraising to build a replica in Milford Haven, Wales, for launch in 2009. Then we're going to recreate the 1831-36 voyage. My colleague in this is David Lort-Phillips whoe relative John Lort Stokes at across the poop cabin tale from Darwin for five years and went on to command Beagle on her trip to westerern Australia. He got a spear in the shoulder for his troubles. We also have Syms Covington's descendents (all Australian) in touch. One is a film maker and is talking to a broadcasting company about a commission to film the voyage. Just though you might like to know.

Margaret Muir said...

What great news.
Thank you for your comment, Peter.
I'm off to visit the Beagle Projects website now and will post a new article on my blog later today.
Best regards,