Yachting archive to preserve sailing’s heritage launched by Clare Francis

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Growing concern about loss of historically significant information has prompted the formation of a new charity, the British National Yachting Archive.

If you can remember web addresses, it’s at: http://www.bnya.org.uk.

The launch itself took place at the London Boat Show yesterday evening and was announced officially by Association of Yachting Historians president, novelist and sailor Clare Francis.

The new organisation says it hopes to:

• Promote the preservation of sailing’s heritage
• Establish a knowledge base of yachting heritage and provide public access
• Facilitate the presentation and display of yachting heritage at appropriate museums and other organisations
• Provide grants, bursaries and scholarships for those who would advance knowledge and understanding of yachting heritage

It also hopes to find homes for private collections, many of which have no future once their owner passes on and are frequently lost.

‘It also hopes to find homes for private collections,
many of which have no future once their owner
passes on and are frequently lost.’

The Archive will represent a broad definition of sailing including dinghy sailing and motor boating, as well as all the support industries. It will be a a virtual archive with web-based resources that identify and link to information wherever it resides, including clubs, classes, museums, businesses and the media.

As much of material is not stored or catalogued to archival standards, help and advice will be provided where necessary, and in the longer term, the BNYA hopes to digitise large amounts of material to facilitate easy access.

The BNYA is a membership-based charity, with membership fees used to further the work of the Archive and jointly fund grant-aided projects – chairman David Elliott says that there is a great deal of catching up to do, so membership needs to build quickly.

Some of the first research projects will be to collect oral histories, and the BNYA has a growing list of people it feels should be interviewed as soon as possible. That makes a lot of sense to me, as it seems clear that too many people have passed on without having their memories recorded.

Download a pdf explaining the BNYA’s background here.

Cockleshell Hero canoes at the National Maritime Museum Cornwall

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A new National Maritime Museum Cornwall display explores the evolution of fighting canoes used by the British in World War II.

The oldest canoe in the collection, the Mark II, was made famous by Operation Frankton in December 1942, which was the basis for the film The Cockleshell Heroes.

The real Cockleshell Heroes were Royal Marine Commandos, who got their nickname from the canoes that they used, which were known as cockles. They were difficult to spot at night  and easy to hide, launch attacks and seek out suitable landing places, and could even be used to and could be used to land and collect secret agents. Collapsible types could be carried and launched from submarines.

A brief description of the raid and a collection of relevant links appears at the Wikipedia.

I should explain that much of the information now available and some of the artifacts on show is available thanks to the painstaking research work of  Quentin Rees, who has recently published a book on the topic: The Cockleshell Canoes: British Military Canoes of World War Two.

The exhibition, which runs until the 26th April 2009, includes two other canoes in the exhibition are built of aluminium for use in the tropics, and the display is said to bring together three of the rarest military canoes of the time.

The Dream of Napoleon

Longwood House, St Helena. This is where Napoleon was imprisoned
by the British from 1815 until his death in 1821. Photo taken by Isaac
Newton and published by the Wikipedia

Thinking about South Georgia also led me to to muse on St Helena and also, perhaps inevitably, to Napoleon’s exile there.

And then I recalled the striking ballad about it, The Dream of Napoleon, shown below, with thanks to the Mudcat Cafe and the Digital Tradition.

I mean to learn this song some time so, if you’re sufficiently curious, please come back in a while, when you may find there’s an MP3 to download and listen to. It’s an interesting example of the broadside balladeer’s work, and once again underlines the point that not all of the English-speaking world saw Napoleon as a thoroughgoing baddie, or felt that the people of France were their enemies.

For more on St Helena, see the Wikipedia, and this tourism site.

The Dream of Napoleon

One night sad and languid I went to my bed
And had scarcely reclined on my pillow
Then a vision surprising came into my head
And methought I was crossing the billow;
I thought as my vessel sped over the deep
I beheld that rude rock that grows craggy and steep
Where the billows now seem to weep
O’er the grave of the once famed Napoleon

Methought as my vessel drew near to the land
I beheld clad in green his bold figure
With the trumpet of fame he had clasped in his hand
On his brow there shone valor and rigor
He says noble stranger you have ventured to me
From that land of your fathers who boast they are free
If so then a tale I will tell unto thee
‘Tis concerning that once famed Napoleon

You remember the day so immortal he cried
When we crossed o’er the Alps famed in story
With the legions of France whose sons were my pride
As I marched them to honor and glory
On the fields of Marien lo I tyranny hurled
Where the banners of France were to me first unfurled
As a standard of liberty all over the world
And a signal of fame cried Napoleon

Like a hero I’ve borne both the heat and the cold
I have marched to the trumpet and cymbal
But by dark deeds of treachery I now have been sold
Though monarchs before me have trembled
Ye princes and rulers their station demean
And like scorpions ye spit forth venom and spleen
But liberty all over the world shall be seen
As I woke from my dream cried Napoleon

Lyrics thanks to Mudcat Cafe’s DigiTrad pages.

Here’s a rather rough recording of my version – I hope you like it.

From Songs the Whalemen Sang, by Gale Huntington.

I gather one can buy a copy here.