Thursday, December 05, 2013

"Neptune" - Roman Polanski's Pirate ship in Genoa

On my recent visit to Italy, I paid a special visit to "Il Galeone Neptune”.
She is berthed in the harbour at Genoa.
This remarkable ship was built in the early 1980s in Tunisia as a movie ‘prop’ for the Roman Polanski film, “Pirate”. The movie starred Walter Matthau but a DVD edition was never released due to Polanski's personal/political problems.
Though suffering from neglect (though some restoration work is going on below decks) the intricate detailed carving of her bow and sterncastle galleries are breathtaking.
Weighing 1500 tons, 65m long and 16.4m beam, the ship is impressive as it is larger than an actual Spanish Galleon.
'Neptune is a fully rigged ship but beneath her elaborate wooden facade she has a steel hull and is equipped with a diesel motor.
Internally she has spacious gundecks and cabins. And some restoration work is being done below decks.
It cost only 5 euros to step aboard but few people seemed to be taking advantage.
Of for few coats of paint and varnish!

'Santa Maria' replica of Christopher Columbus's famous ship

This replica of the Christopher Columbus’s 15th century, ‘Santa Maria’, was commenced in 1997. It was built by Dutchman, Rob Wijntje, a resident of the island of Madeira.
As no original plans existed, Rob sourced information from books in an effort to construct a replica as close to the original as possible. The resulting ship is 22 meters long, has 3 masts - the tallest being 16 meters high, and built entirely of mahogany.
Today the ‘Santa Maria’ sails regularly out of Funchal, taking passengers along the rugged south coast of Madeira.
Historically: ‘La Santa María de la Inmaculada Concepción’ or ‘La Santa María’ was a medium sized carrack and was the largest of the three ships used by Christopher Columbus in his first voyage. It was the flagship of his expedition which sailed to discover a new route to the spice islands of the east.
The other ships of the Columbus expedition were the smaller caravel-type ships Santa Clara, remembered as La Niña ("The Girl"), and La Pinta ("The Painted"). All three ships were second-hand and were not meant for exploration.
The ‘Santa María’ was built in Spain's north-east, having a single deck and three masts.
She was the slowest of Columbus's fleet but performed well in the Atlantic crossing. However, on Christmas Day, 1492, she ran aground on the coast of Haiti.
As the ship was beyond repair, Columbus ordered his men to strip the timbers from the ship.
These were later used to build a fort which he called La Navidad (Christmas).

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Royal Galley - spectacular exhibit in Barcelona's Maritime Museum

One of the highlights of my recent holiday was a visit to the Maritime Museum in Barcelona. I went there specifically to see the magnificent replica of the royal galley of Don John of Austria.
This amazing vessel was the flagship of the fleet of the Holy League which comprised Spain, the Venetian Republic, the Holy See and Malta. On 7 October 1571, this powerful naval force confronted and defeated the Turkish League under the command of Ali Pasha at Lepanto.
Before the replica was built in 1971, a small model was constructed. In the picture the position of the oars and the sail configuration is included.
The oars were manned by 290 galley slaves/rowers. (This image photographed from a simulated video playing in the museum). Imagine what an arduous job it would have been to power such a vessel.
The following details are from Wikipedia:
“The ship was 60 metres (200 ft) long and 6.2 metres (20 ft) wide.
It had two masts, and weighed 237 tons empty. It was equipped with three heavy and six light artillery pieces, was propelled by a total of 290 rowers and, in addition, carried some 400 sailors and soldiers at Lepanto.
Fifty men were posted on the upper deck of the forecastle, 50 on the midships ramp, another 50 each along the sides at the bow, 50 each on the skiff and oven platforms, 50 on the firing steps along the sides near the stern, and 50 more on the stern platform behind the huge battle flag.
To help move and maneuvre the huge ship, it was pushed from the rear during the battle by two other galleys.
Befitting a royal flagship, it was luxuriously ornamented and painted in the red and gold colors of Spain.
Its poop was elaborately carved and painted with numerous sculptures, bas-reliefs, paintings and other embellishments, most of them evoking religious and humanistic inspirational themes.”
A cut-away section revealed the interior with ample room for storage of provisions and weaponry.
The maritime museum which houses the great galley has just undergone a period of 3 year's restoration.
The Barcelona Royal Shipyard (Drassanes Reials de Barcelona) houses the Barcelona Maritime Museum. Construction of the yards started during the 13th century under the rule of Peter III of Aragon. From the 13th to 18th century numerous war and merchant ships were built under its grand vaulted roof. The shipyard's restoration was finished in early 2013.
From 1381, the building had eight naves, 8.4m high and 8.4m wide. The naves were, approximately, 60m long, consisting of 17 columns 77 cm wide and 6 m high.
The purpose of the shipyard was to build galleys for the Aragonese Armada and during the rule of Alfonso V of Aragon, the shipyard experienced its highest activity.
In 1423, twelve galleys were built simultaneously. In 1571, the Royal Galley of John of Austria, commonly known as the Real, was built at the shipyard. This galley was the flagship at the Battle of Lepanto.
In 1935 the building was given to the Barcelona city who decide to use it as a maritime museum. It was opened in 1941. The 1976 the building was declared a Cultural Site of National Interest.
Pics by Margaret Muir

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Festival of Golden Words to remember the life of RICHARD CARLTON

The writers festival set for March in northern Tasmania, will remember RICHARD CARLTON the veteran TV journalist who died on assignment while covering the BEACONSFIELD mine rescue in 2006.

Last week saw the launch of the Festival of Golden Words, a writers’ event to be held annually at the historic gold mining town of Beaconsfield in northern Tasmania. It will feature 70 well-known authors from around Australia including Nick Earls, Steve Bisley, Maggie Beer and Dr Philip Nitschke.
The event will also host the inaugural Richard Carleton address as a tribute to the journalist who died while reporting the mine disaster in 2006. Richard’s family will be present for the lecture.

Pic:Officially launching the event was Tasmania’s Premier, Lara Giddings, seen here with Mayor of the West Tamar Region, Barry Easther, and the Convenor of the Festival, Stephen Dando-Collins and his wife, Louise.
Pic 2: The historic mine with the latter-day shaft in the background. The mine is now closed but attracts tourists to its museum.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

ADMIRALTY ORDERS released in paperback

ADMIRALTY ORDERS by M.C. Muir is now available from and in paperback.
Book Three in the Oliver Quintrell nautical fiction series, sees Captain Quintrell facing life-threatening events over which he has no control.
Ordered to sail to Gibraltar in the late summer of 1804, his ship soon becomes hemmed in, not by Spanish gunboats or French ships of the line, but by the Quarantine Regulations which close the port around him. Unable to halt the loss of life from a raging epidemic, he strives to do his part to help save the Colony when it is at its most vulnerable.
This seafaring adventure, set during the Napoleonic Wars, is based on actual events which took place in and around Gibraltar between August and December, 1804, including a major sea battle.
It shows how ignorance and prejudice can exist in a ship, and presents a startling portrait of life at Gibraltar - a British settlement ruled by a military garrison where naval power was only an incidental force.

I took this picture inside the Windsor Gallery which was the original tunnel dug into the Rock of Gibraltar.
It is where the 32 pound cannon were installed to defend the Rock against the Franco/Spanish enemy.

The e-book edition of ADMIRALTY ORDERS is available from Amazon at $2.99.
The paperback is also on sale through

EUROPA looses mizzen topmast in squall off coast of Australia

In August, 2013, I joined the Bark EUROPA in Fremantle and sailed along the Australian Bight.
Choosing to sail in that latitude in winter was questioned by a few hardy sailors I know.
Low pressure systems and storms roll in from the west together with icy blasts coming directly from Antarctica.
Yet, despite the forecasts, the weather was perfect for the fleet of tall ships who were heading for Melbourne and later Hobart and Sydney as part of the Tall Ship’s Festivals and Races. It was cold, but there was little rain and the winds were coming from the right direction.
At times, EUROPA creamed along at 9.5 knots. It was an unforgettable and uneventful (as far as mishaps is concerned) journey.
Not so, however, the conditions which EUROPA and the other ships were confronted with when they crossed Bass Strait heading north from Hobart and neared the south east coast of Australia.

A ferocious squall blew in, bringing EUROPA’S mizzen topmast crashing down and breaking two booms on OOSTERSCHELDE.
Here is the report of the incident which appears on OOSTERSHELDE’S website.
1 October 2013 - Oosterschelde in a squall of coast of Australia.
We decided to wait for the front that was coming our way and then sail to Sydney with wind coming from the west. With a nice sun and barely any wind we lifted the anchor and sailed slowly to Gabo Island, the southeast cape of Australia. The ‘Europa’ joined us and together we passed by the cape. Slowly, because we prepared the ship by reefing all the sails. The dark sky behind us foretold the ominous change of weather.
The next thing we knew it was chaos. Out of nowhere a huge gust of wind fell over the ship. One moment we had wind from the northwest of 5 knots and the other moment it was southwest with 55 knots! Before we could say anything the preventers of the foresail and the mainsail snapped and with a big bang both sails jibed which caused both booms to splinter. The sea, even so close to shore, builds up quickly and with big waves we swing from side to side. Despite the broken boom we did not dare to take down the foresail. Luckily the sail did not tear and we all pulled together and managed to take away the main sail and secured what was left of the booms. With only the foresail we did 9 knots. The wind is now over its peak. We have a storm jib and a very small mizzen due to three reefs, the sun started shining and we are licking our wounds. No one got hurt and in the end it could have been worse, but we will have a lot of work to do in Sydney making two new booms.

Fortunately, despite the damage, all vessels made it safely into Sydney Harbour and arrived in time for the impressive sight of the arrival of 18 tall ships.
During the time in port, repairs were undertaken and two days ago the fleet left Sydney heading for New Zealand.
From there, some of the more hardy vessels, including the three Dutch Tall Ships, will set sail for the mammoth voyage to Cape Horn. After doubling the Horn they will sail to the Falkland Islands as part of their circumnavigation of the globe.
Bon voyage and a safe voyage to all the intrepid voyage crew on board.
Pics of Europa and of damaged ship from a crew member of Oosterschelde.

Thursday, October 10, 2013


THE CONDOR’S FEATHER is an unconventional historical equestrian adventure.
It features an unconventional protagonist.
And much of it is set in an unconventional location – the Pampas of Patagonia.

It has been written that this land was the last place on earth which God created. That he used all the pieces He had left over, the deserts, plateaux, mountains, rivers, lakes and glaciers. Not wanting to waste anything He threw them all together and created the tail end of the earth.

“This is just one of Margaret Muir’s evocative and memorable descriptions of Patagonia, a land about which so much has been written and repeated. Muir spends a great deal of time creating a sense of the Patagonian landscape in all of its beauty and, at times, savagery. She evokes the constantly changing colours of the Patagonian sky but also takes moments to cover the vast open steppe with its violent winds and sandstorms that rake the land, so the reader is left in no doubt of the formidable wild frontier that Patagonia once represented to most, even until the fairly recent past. She also clearly has a love for animals, vividly describing both domestic animals such as the dogs and horses that travel with their masters, and the wild guanaco, pumas, ostrich-like ñandus and condors that the travellers meet on their journey.”
From Amy Turner, Cascada Expeditiones/Cascada Travel, Santiago, Chile.

THE CONDOR’S FEATHER was first published in hardback by Robert Hale in London. It is now available as a kindle e-book for $2.99
(FREE for 5 days on Kindle on 10 Oct.2013)

Pic – Lady Florence Dixie whose real life adventure on the Pampas inspired this story.

Saturday, October 05, 2013

Tall ship ENTERPRIZE replica

FLAX, HEMP and STOCKHOLM TAR used in this replica.
The replica ENTERPRIZE, which sails regularly on Port Phillip Bay, was constructed on the lines of the original. The 1830 Hobart-built topsail schooner was a bulk cargo ship that carried coal and other goods, however, in 1835 she landed the first settlers on the Yarra River. This was the establishment of the settlement that later grew into the City of Melbourne.
Aiming for authenticity, the latter-day builders insisted on using the same materials as in the original vessel. As a result, the sails are hand-stiched from flax imported from Scotland. The standing and running rigging is of natural hemp fibre imported from Holland coated with Stockholm Tar.
All the timbers are Australian and New Zealand grown or recycled. The tiller and windlass are examples of the fine craftsmanship that went into building this replica tall ship.
This interesting replica vessel takes passengers on regular day sails on Port Phillip Bay.
I photographed her during the Tall Ships Festival in September 2013.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

The legend behind the figurehead – Dutch tall ship EUROPA

In classic Greek Mythology, Zeus, king of the gods, took many human lovers. He attracted these maidens by changing himself into various forms.
When he first cast his eyes on Europa, daughter of the king of Pheonicia, she was walking along a beach. Disguising himself as a glistening snow-white bull, he approached the maiden.
Being so gentle and tame, Europa stroked the bull and draped a garland of wild flowers around his curving horns.
Feeling no fear of the beautiful beast, she climbed on its back and let it carry her down to the shore.
But once his feet touched the water, the bull leapt into the sea and carried Europa to the island of Crete, where the Greek God took her for his bride.

In Metamorphoses, the poet Ovid (born 43 BC) wrote:
…slowly, slowly down the broad, dry beach—
First in the shallow waves the great god set
His spurious hooves, then sauntered further out
'til in the open sea he bore his prize…

Today, the goddess Europa is remembered through her presence as the figurehead on the Dutch sailing ship which bears her name.
And like the young princess, who was transported to sea on the back of the glistening white beast, today's voyage crew show the same faith and fearlessness as they are carried to sea to sail the vast oceans of the world aboard this magnificent tall ship.

1) Europa and bull - Greek vase Tarquinia Museum, circa 480 BCE (Wiki)
2) Europa and the bull, by Fredericus de Wit (1700)(Wiki)
3) Figurehead (MM)
4) Bark EUROPA - photo courtesy of passenger on Oosterchelde.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Tall ships reflect Hobart's by-gone era

September 2013, Hobart, Tasmania was visited by a group of Dutch Tall Ships and several other ships as part of the Tall Ships Festival. Some of these ships had travelled half-way around the world as part of a circumnavigation of the globe.

This was Hobart's greatest assembly of tall ships since the bicentennial celebrations of 1988.
The old poster of a photograph taken in 1895, shows cargo and passenger ships, plus whaling ships berthed along the New Wharf (now called Princes Wharf).

Last week, Princes Wharf hosted the magnificent Bark Europa – a Dutch tall ship built as a lightship in Germany in 1911: the topsail schooner, Oosterschelde (early 20th century), and the Lord Nelson, Britain's Jubilee Sailing Trust STS especially constructed for people with limited abilities.

Across on the Elizabeth Pier another 5 ships graced the Hobart’s waterfront.

The Lady Nelson (replica 1798 colonial brig) was built on the Derwent and is a permanent feature on the harbour.
Behind her is another Dutch ship, Tecla, a 2-masted ketch built 1915. Having seen her on the water, I can confirm she is very fast.

On the other side of the pier, Hobart's Windeward Bound (earlier pic), a two masted brigantine built in Tasmania.

She is followed by the Young Endeavour STS whose crew ‘dressed’ the ship as she came into dock.

And last but not least, the Soren Larsen - Danish built but now based in Sydney, which was made famous in various movies including The French Lieutenant's Woman and The Onedin Line.

Hobart's Tall Ship Festival also hosted a fine display of wooden boats and a Viking ship, which I will include in the next post.