The almost unbelievable galley

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Galley drawing from On the High Seas – click for a larger image

Idly reading my first edition copy of On the High Seas by E Keble Chatterton, I was astonished to find this drawing of a galley.

The book itself is a largely unstructured collection of salty yarns about mutiny, exploration, slavers, pirates and high adventure – the chapter headings themselves tell a story, for they include: Chpt 1 Deep Sea Roving, Chpt IV The Profession of Piracy, Chpt VIII St Helena and the Slavers and Chpt XI Gambling with Death.

I can’t be sure that the proportions of the tippy-looking vessel shown are truly representative, but for me at least, this drawing of a galley from the chapter on the Profession of Piracy raises some practical points. It has a rig that would normally be expected to be best in beating rather than running – but I suspect sailing upwind was not its main purpose. For one thing I imagine the rowing galleries must have been vulnerable to digging-in when heeled, causing a kind of wild reverse-broach; for another I’d guess that like one of Pete Culler’s recreational skiff users, the commanders of these craft would row upwind when it was faster than sailing.

The power question is interesting. By my count there are two galleries of 27 oars here, each with six oarsmen. If well trained and well they fed, could theoretically deliver 0.2hp each – and by my calculation hat’s 324 oarsmen who, in my calculation should be able to deliver a total of 65hp. That’s not a huge amount of grunt for a ship this size, but even this figure would have to be reduced by some factor because it must have been difficult for the oarsmen at the inner and outer extremes of each oar to deliver their theoretical maximum, either because of the lack of travel or because of too much.

Surely, the man by the gunwale must have been chosen for his massive strength and the man at the far end for his height and span?

The detail shown here is fabulous. Just look at the warlike group on the forecastle and the three guns. I’d hate to see one of these coming my way, particularly if I had no wind to escape!

Here’s what Keble-Chatterton has to say:

‘The corsairs of Tunis rarely emerged from the Mediterranean, but sailed about off the south of Sardinia, or Cape Passaro at the heel of Sicily, or that historic pirate area among the Ionian Islands. The latter was a risky sphere, for the Venetian naval galleys with sails, masts, big crews of oarsmen, and with bow-guns, wsere not infrequently to be met with. The Moors feared these Venetians as their deadliest enemies, nor was the Battle of Lepanto yet forgotten. Using handy lateen-sail feluccas, with plenty of men to row as required in light or head winds, the Tunis pirates had and endless series of bays, creeks, and islands wherein to creep for rest and recreation. Such islands as Candia, Lampedusa, Rhodes and Cyprus could be used; but Tunis itself, being an open roadstead with inadequate protection from the fort, was not for them an ideal base. Algiers, on the contrary, was protected by a mole and a citadel; and there was a light showing to enable the rovers to get home from the sea.’

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Was Sir Walter Raleigh a murderer?

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Sir Walter Raleigh painted by Nicholas Hilliard, from the The Yorck Project: 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei via the Wikimedia

Ex-Naval man, 20th century historian and Roman Catholic Bishop, David Mathew describes Sir Walter Raleigh’s importance in 1596 like this: ‘With Hawkins, Drake and Grenville lost on service and Frobisher dead the previous year, Sir Walter Raleigh alone remained. Though much less of a naval figure, for he was in essence a Renaissance magnifico, Raleigh set the lines of later doctrine.’

British schoolchildren are taught that he was an important figure in Queen Elizabeth I’s court and navy, and that he was always getting into trouble with his queen, on one occasion for secretly marrying one of her ladies-in-waiting. But was he also a heartless murderer?

A street ballad in Samuel Pepys’s ballad collection certainly suggests he was. Read the story as told in a ballad that was widely sung and part of the oral tradition in England and America well into the 20th century. Sussex singer, fisherman and ferryman Johnny Doughty had a a particularly good version.

It’s sometimes also known as the Sweet Trinity and has its own Wikipedia entry. Mudcat has versions, and a surprising range of really good tunes for the song.

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Racing Montagu whalers off Auckland

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Whalers racing off Auckland many years ago; as usual, click
on the thumbnail for a larger image

Reader Paul Mullings has contacted us with this photo of Naval whalers racing off Auckland, New Zealand many years ago. This is what he says about it:

‘The New Zealand forces used to hold a regatta, at the end of which they challenged a team of representatives from the Auckland Yachting Association to a series raced in the whalers.’

It looks like a hoot to me. These boats’ sportiness is evident: no doubt their length and lightness made them fly in a breeze.

In fact, Paul put a comment on one an earlier post on Montagu whalers in which he reminisced about sailing Montagu whalers when he was a boy:

‘Oh the memories – 45 years or so ago I was a Sea Scout in the 6th Leigh Troop headquatered at Leigh-on-Sea in Essex. We had a Montagu whaler at the time and I have ingrained memories of rowing (I think I still have the blisters!) and sailing, what at the time seemed a huge boat. Being long and thin they could really fly under sail in any kind of breeze and I vividly remember storming across the Thames Estuary on more than one occasion bound for the Medway. Happy days!

For more on whalers at intheboatshed.net including one for sale, click here.