Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Batavia’s Graveyard – history’s bloodiest mutiny (1629)

Though Captain Cook is credited with discovering Australia, Dutch trading ships had been sailing a course parallel to the continent’s west coast for almost 200 years. Of those ships, several had been lost off the uncharted coastline.

Mike Dash’s, Batavia’s Graveyard, is the true story, told in narrative form, of the worst civilian maritime massacre ever recorded.

In the autumn on 1628, the East Indiaman, Batavia, the largest and newest ships of the Dutch East India Company’s fleet set sail from Holland loaded with a King’s ransom in gold, silver and gems. She is bound for Java on a route which carries her close to the coast of the yet uncharted continent of Australia.
On board is Jeronimus Cornelisz, who during the voyage plots a mutiny with the Captain and other members of the crew.
When the ship is wrecked and the Company’s Agent sets sail in an open boat to seek help. He leaves over 200 survivors on the islands without water food or shelter.
In order to secure his survival, Cornelisz seizes control and begins to systematically kill the survivors. Without tainting his own hands, he forces his henchmen to hack to death more than 120 of men, women and children.
Batavia’s Graveyard is no fiction story. It is a poignant and chilling true re-enactment of the events which took place.
And it is said that if you happen to land at Houtman's Abrolhos, the tiny uninhabited archipelago just off Australia's west coast today, you can still find the sun-bleached bones of the victims.
Evocative, unbelievable and certainly unforgettable.

Batavia’s Graveyard by Mike Dash (2002)

Monday, November 27, 2006

HMS Beagle (replica) - to sail again

The vision of the Beagle Project Pembrokeshire is build a replica of the three masted barque which carried Darwin on his epic voyages (1831-1836). She will be “built of larch on oak frames, the hull will be copper sheathed and the boat will be fitted with modern propulsion, navigation, safety and communications equipment.”
Like the 1830’s vessel, she will be equipped with the latest technology, “to allow aspiring and practising scientists to use her as a platform from which to collect specimens and on which to store samples and stage experiments". She will be an inspiration to a new generation of scientists.
And on her first major voyage (2009) she will circumnavigate the globe, retracing the voyage the Beagle took in Darwin’s day.
The original ship:
When the Beagle was launched on the Thames in 1820, she was brig-rigged carrying only two masts with square-rigged sails. Because this design of ship sat low in the water and had a habit of turning-turtle if mishandled in heavy weather, it was sometimes referred to as a ‘coffin ship’.
In 1825, however, she was re-rigged as a barque with the addition of a mizzen (third) mast fitted with fore and aft sails. This configuration made the ship more manoeuvrable.
When HMS Beagle was commissioned in 1831 to continue survey work in the Southern Ocean, she was again refitted under the direction of Robert FitzRoy, her captain, who ensured she benefited from the latest in nautical technology. For example, for the first time in a Royal Navy ship, lightening conductors were fitted to all the masts.
At 235 tons, the Beagle’s masts and spars were extra strong, and chains had been used in place of ropes where possible.
It was under the command of skilled navigator and surveyor, Captain FitzRoy, the ship carried the young naturalist, Charles Darwin on the voyages which were to lead to his theory of evolution.

For more information on the Beagle Pembrokeshire Project go to:
The Beagle Project.

Photo (M. Muir - HMS Endeavour replica)

Friday, November 24, 2006

The Beagle Channel - revisited

There are still places in this world where you stand in awe.
Where there is an aura of solemnity.
The Beagle Channel is one of them - and it is something you don’t expect when you just around the corner from Cape Horn.
Apart from its stark beauty, what struck me about it was its solemn stillness.
Glaciers and ice make little sound.
New-fold mountains sleep, their great stubbled chins pointed skywards while above them condors the size of worker bees wheel in effortless in silent circles.
A thousand streams and waterfalls glisten as they slip relentlessly over honed rock faces only to disappear in the wooded banks below.
Penguins and occasional whales grace the water, while on the scattered rocky outcrops, seals wallow unperturbed while on tiny islands innumerable cormorants hold out their flaccid wings to dry.
Beneath the crystal waters, tall weeds wave their golden fronds as the small boat passes above them leaving barely a ripple on the surface.

The Beagle Channel stretches 120 miles long and two miles wide, and Charles Darwin likened it to the valley of Scotland’s Lockness.
In his words:
The lofty mountains rise to a height of 3,000 and 4,000 feet…covered by a wide mantle of perpetual snow, and numerous cascades pour their waters through the woods, into the narrow channel below. In many parts, magnificent glaciers extend from the mountainside to the water’s edge. It is scarcely possible to imagine anything more beautiful than the beryl-like blue of there glaciers and the dead white of the upper expanse of snow. (The Voyage of the HMS Beagle).

The Channel is probably unchanged since the time HMS Beagle made its first passage in the 1830s and it will be that same scene which will greet the replica ship when she sails south in a few years time.
Thanks to Peter Grath, I have just learned of the Beagle Project Pembrokeshire,
Zoologist, Peter, and David Lort-Phillips director of the Darwin Centre for Biology and Medicine in Wales are co-founders of the project to build a replica of the Beagle.
For more information on this project go to:
The Beagle Project.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Squidoo Lens

In case you are not familiar with SQUIDOO sites - they are called 'lens' and are somewhere between a website and a blog.
They are free from http://www.squidoo.com and are easy to set up.
Squidoo is also a place to search for subjects you are interested in written by folk like you and me.
The profit from the lens go to you or the charity of your choice.
Having just finished reading Imperium my mind wandered back to my holiday in Rome this summer, and to the other places I visited in the Mediterranean.
As a result, I have set up a new Squidoo lens about that cruising holiday (mainly from material I posted earlier on this blog).
You can check the new site at: http://www.squidoo.com/cruisingeurope
I'm following that with a site on Cruising Antartica and one on Sailing across the Atlantic.
As I don't watch TV, it keeps me out of mischief.

Of my other Squidoo lens the most popular is still Tall Ships followed by The Black Thread, the lens wich tells about my forthcoming novel.
You can find those two links on the heading of this page.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Imperium by Robert Harris

Imperium (pub Sept 2006) is an incredible read - a fictionalized biography of Cicero, the Roman advocate, orator and writer who became one of the most powerful men in Roman history.

It follows Cicero's career from his early days as a young advocate to the point of him becoming consul-elect. Not an easy path to tread with enemies as powerful as Julius Caesar and later, Mark Antony.

Battling bribery, massive corruption and treachery, Cicero used the only weapon at is disposal – his voice – to win support for his ideals from the aristocrats, tribunes, senators and the people of Rome.

His story is told through the gentle voice of his
slave/secretary/confidant, Tiro.

For me, Harris's historical novel brings to life this segment of Roman history
Thoroughly recommended.

11th November - Rememberance Day

Lest we forget

Poppies, cultivated since the Middleages, have long been a symbol of rememberance. There are many varieties.
This is a beautiful, old-fashioned peony type bloom.
Photo: M Muir

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Hornblower gets my ship's biscuit!

If you browse through Yahoo you will find specific groups dedicated to the various fictitious naval heroes - characters who have almost become household words, eg: Jack Aubrey, Richard Bolitho and Hornblower. And their creators are as well known as their protégés.
Having written one sea story (Sea Dust), and with a desire to write another, I decided it was time I investigated what it was that the authors of these characters wrote to attract such a large readership and to maintain them over a long period of time.
I tried Patrick O’Brian some time ago and only managed to finish Master and Commander. Half way through, The Far Side of the World, I stopped. For me, O’Brian’s prose consists of too many long sentences which need reading three times over. And he goes off at a tangents at times rather than sticking with the story.
I’ve also tried a couple of Alexander Kent’s. Unfortunately I couldn’t get the early books and started midway through the series where both Bolitho senior and Bolitho junior appeared. I found the double presence confusing.
My other comment is that in all Kent’s scenes at sea – I never once felt the movement of the ship!
Julian Stockwyn is on my list but I haven’t sampled his Kydd series yet.
Last week I bought the first six books of the Hornblower series and have already whizzed through book one and am now onto the second.
All I can say is I am loving the way CS Forester writes. Sure there are a lot of nautical terms but the settings are on fighting ships. Also there is plenty of action (much of it tongue in cheek) but the stories are what I would describe as rollicking good fun with lots of variety. His characters are interesting. I would describe Hornblower as mostly human with a tendency at times to superhuman qualities.
The series I would say encompasses the journey theme, the hero theme, good over evil story and even the Cinderella theme all rolled into one. They have all the ingredients of a good yarn and I’m looking forward to reading them all.
The complete series of CS Forester's Hornblower series are available from Amazon

Thursday, November 02, 2006

A long summer's day in Antarctica

For us here in Australia, the southern summer is just around the corner, while for you folk in the northern hemisphere, winter is looming.
Here's a thought!
This picture was taken from the deck of the Oceania as the ship cruised the Antarctic Peninsula.
It was Boxing Day, 2004 - the middle of summer - and it snowed!!
Have to admit my hands were freezing but I couldn't operate the video recorder with gloves on.
What a fantastic experience that was!

Photo: PJ Ryan

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Tall ship adventure - The White Squall

I thoroughly enjoyed watching the DVD of the White Squall.
It’s the true story of a tall ship adventure with a group of youths on a fully rigged sail training ship in the 1960s.
It brought back memories of my times on the STS Leeuwin and the voyages I took on the Indian Ocean a few years ago.
It also reminded me of the tropical low which struck the Star Clipper it neared the West Indies near the end of my voyage across the Atlantic.
Quite a storm – but what an experience!
I’ve been looking at the voyages offered by Victory Cruises on the Europa which sails out of Ushuaia on Tierra del Fuego. It’s voyages include the Antarctic Peninsula, Falkland Islands and across the South Atlantic to Cape Town.
Would love to go on that – but it will have to remain on the wish-list!

I was particularly struck by the final lines of dialogue in the movie.

“You can’t run from the wind. You face the music and keep going.”
How true. Just like life!

The image, by Rod Thompson, appears on the website of http://www.victory-cruises.com organisers of tall ship sailings in Antarctic waters – including voyages on Europa.