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Posted in Boats, Bravery, Disasters, Famous Inventors, Historical articles, History, Ships on Thursday, 23 May 2013
This edited article about Henry Greathead originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 264 published on 4 February 1967.
Henry Greathead and the Greathead Lifeboat
A cheer left the throats of hundreds of onlookers as a wave lifted the boat from its special carriage, and the ten oarsmen pulled with a will. Henry Greathead felt a glow of pride as he steered the boat he had built into the choppy seas off South Shields that bleak day on 30th January, 1790. Christened the Original, it was the world’s first specially designed lifeboat.
Born on 27th January, 1757, Henry Greathead grew up to become a ship’s carpenter. He learned his craft on various voyages in sailing ships, and in 1785 he set up business in South Shields as a boat-builder. He became fascinated by the idea of building an unsinkable boat to save life at sea.
In 1789 the ship, Adventure, of Newcastle, was lost on the Herd Sands outside South Shields. The entire crew was drowned in view of thousands of spectators who lined the shore only 300 yards away. The sea was too rough for any normal boat to reach the unfortunate sailors. As a result of this disaster a prize was offered for the design of a boat which might have saved the lives of the Adventure’s crew The winning model was made by a schoolteacher called William Wouldhave. Henry Greathead was entrusted to make the clay prototype into the actual boat, and was encouraged to make a number of his own modifications.
The result was a boat 30 feet long, 10 feet wide and 3 feet 4 inches deep. It was lined with 7 cwts. of cork inside and out and it could carry 20 people. This boat, so aptly named the Original, was to see service for the next 40 years during which it saved many lives.
Henry Greathead continued the work of designing and building lifeboats, improving each as he gained experience. Fourteen years after the launching of the Original he had completed 31 more craft, eight of which were for service abroad.
Modern lifeboats are ingenious pieces of design and engineering, equipped with the latest electronic devices. They are a far cry from the wood and cork boats of Henry Greathead, powered only by the muscles of their brave crews.
When Henry Greathead died in 1816 he had the satisfaction of knowing that hundreds of sailors owed their lives to his boats.
Posted in Boats, Historical articles, Sea, Ships, Travel on Thursday, 23 May 2013
This edited article about sailing originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 264 published on 4 February 1967.
Arab "Dhows" on the Red Sea
I stepped back in history a thousand years or more, once, and sailed in Eastern seas much as the ancients did. The year was 1938-39. Like many other seafarers, I had often noticed swift Arab dhows in Red Sea ports such as Djibouti, Jiddah, Port Sudan, and in Aden. By mid-1938, when sailing-ships were becoming very scarce for Europeans to sail in, I decided to go to Arabia and sail with these dhows. I could find no record that any European had bothered to learn much about them since the days of Marco Polo.
I found the native port of Ma’alla, by the Crater in Aden, a fascinating place. Ma’alla beach had probably changed little since the Queen of Sheba passed by. It was packed with swift-lined, graceful little sailing-ships, distinctive with their raking masts, colourful built-up sterns (though some were ‘double-enders’ i.e., pointed each end), complete lack of modern improvements, and sturdy dark crews. Europeans called all these ships ‘dhows’ and left them alone.
On the smelly beach were larger vessels, too, big ships of 200 and 300 tons. These, I was told, traded to India and down the coast of East Africa. Some carried pilgrims into the Red Sea, to land at Jiddah for the Moslem pilgrimage to Mecca. One or two were Indian. Most carried flags with strange devices, red ensigns decorated with some passage in Arabic from the Koran, or crossed swords, or simply Arabic words for EL-KUWAIT.
There were over 2,000 such dhows around the coasts of Arabia then, and several hundred of them lay on, at, or off Ma’alla. Others were being built or repaired there by craftsmen who could have shared Christ’s workshop and His tools. At little stone quays or at anchorages, a profusion of dhows discharged dates in heavy big packages, or loaded salt in bulk, and cotton-stuffs in bolts, and all manner of trade-goods from the free port of Aden, for distribution into the nearer East African, Gulf of Aden and Red Sea ports.
All this trade and highly colourful coming and going went on regardless of the great ships of Europe lying off Steamer Point, hurriedly taking in bunkers for the continuance of their voyages to India, Australia and the Far East. The two worlds, though adjacent, were utterly separate. Laden dhows slipped silently seawards past big liners, their graceful lateen sails spread to the monsoon wind, their commerce, their outlook, their seamanship, their whole concept of living, out of date by at least a thousand years. The world had passed them by.
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Posted in Anthropology, Boats, Bravery, Historical articles, History, Travel on Thursday, 23 May 2013
This edited article about Kon-Tiki originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 263 published on 28 January 1967.
Until 1947, no one could say with any certainty where the brown-skinned people who lived on the tiny islands in the South Pacific had come from.
A Norwegian named Thor Heyerdahl believed that they must have drifted there from Peru in South America, and to prove his theory he decided to build a raft like those used by the Pacific islanders and, making use of the prevailing winds and currents, sail it from Peru. With the assistance of the British, American and Peruvian governments, Heyerdahl was able to put his plan into action.
The raft which he had constructed consisted of nine logs of balsa wood, each 18 feet long by 1 foot in diameter. Above the logs, lashed with hemp, was a deck of split bamboo. A cabin of split bamboo and banana leaves was built upon this. To the mangrove-wood masts was fixed a large square sail with the face of the Inca god, Kon-Tiki, after whom the raft was named, painted on it.
On 28th April, 1947, the frail craft, which was to brave rough seas and danger from dolphins, whales and sharks, was towed out to sea from the naval dockyard at Callao.
After months at sea, Thor Heyerdahl and his five companions finally sighted land more than 4,000 miles from Peru, but their decision to continue sailing westwards almost led to disaster. As they approached the next island, their raft ran hard on to a reef, but was swept safely into a lagoon. At last, on 21st July, 1947, they had reached a Pacific island after months of danger at sea, with Thor’s theory finally proved.
Posted in Ancient History, Archaeology, Boats, Historical articles, History, Rivers, Sea, Ships, Trade, Transport, Travel on Wednesday, 22 May 2013
This edited article about seafaring originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 263 published on 28 January 1967.
Queen Hatshepsut's expedition to Punt with inset diagram showing details of the boat construction
How did seafaring begin? Who first made a raft, a dug-out, a bark canoe? We haven’t much idea, any more than we can find out now who first thought up the idea of making a wheel.
But it is pretty sure that the same materials available to men over much of the earth led to the development of the same sort of floating ‘vehicles’ – so much so, indeed, that many exceedingly primitive craft are still with us. After all, logs, burned-out hollow trees, curled bits of bark, rafts and even lashed-up reeds will float anywhere. So will blown-up animal skins and big baskets, woven and caulked with bitumen or tar, or just trampled-down grass held together with any gooey stuff that happens to be to hand, like resin out of trees.
Rock drawings; scratchings on stone; stylised decorations on ancient vases scarcely identifiable as any sort of vessel, actual models of very old Egyptian river-craft; all these still exist and we can make what we want of them. So do the vessels themselves on which the drawings and models were based, in surprising profusion: reed boats on Lake Titicaca in South America, for example, which are nothing but bundles of bulrushes in which a fisherman may sit and control a small sail of light woven reeds set from a bipod mast of sticks; basket-boats woven from bamboos and caulked with a mixture of cow-dung and coconut oil in Vietnam; the one-man rafts of small balsa logs lashed together which are used for fishing inshore along the coasts of Peru and Brazil; and dug-outs with or without outriggers; twin-hulled or single, large and small, still abound in parts of the South Sea Islands, and around the coasts of India, Ceylon, Burma, East and West Africa.
With one exception, none of these craft would ever grow into any sort of seagoing ship. Even the primitive Australian aborigines made a raft of mangrove poles, but they got no farther. Rafts, reeds and baskets did all that was needed.
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Posted in Boats, Famous news stories, Historical articles, History, London, Ships on Monday, 20 May 2013
This edited article about Captain Bligh originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 260 published on 7 January 1967.
Captain Bligh was at sea for three months before reaching Timor, by Peter Jackson
Every schoolboy must know the name on the plaque at No. 100 Lambeth Road, the former home of Captain Bligh of the Bounty.
Bligh joined the navy when still very young, and was educated by the teachers then carried on the larger warships. Eventually he became one of Captain Cook’s officers, and with him he surveyed Tasmania and the Sandwich Islands. He was with Cook at the time of his fatal visit to New Zealand, and took part in the fight in which Cook was killed.
It was during this voyage that breadfruit was discovered at Tahiti. The event was to prove much more significant for Bligh than he could possibly have guessed at the time.
For some years it seemed that Bligh would follow a normal career of average obscurity. He saw action at the battle of the Dogger Bank in 1781 and in the following year he fought under Lord Howe at Gibraltar.
In 1787, his skill as a navigator was recognised, and he was given his first command: Bounty. He was then sent to transplant breadfruit trees from Tahiti to the West Indies. The mission was not so whimsical as it might appear, for it was thought the trees would provide a source of good, cheap food for the slaves then at work on the plantations of the New World.
At Tahiti, the ship’s company relaxed and enjoyed the natural delights of the island for much longer than was necessary. They left with reluctance. Tempers were short and Bligh was overbearing. After a heated quarrel about some coconuts, the young mate, Christian, prepared to desert. He changed his mind and instead led the famous mutiny.
Bligh was put into a small boat with 18 men, some provisions and navigational instruments, but no charts. Three months later, Captain Bligh and his men reached Timor, off Java, having spent three months at sea, touching only islands for fruit and shellfish. It was a remarkable voyage.
Back in England, Bligh was given another ship, and was dispatched once more to transplant breadfruit trees. This time he completed the mission without incident.
Three years later, mutineers again relieved him of his ship, at the Nore, but this time he was landed. He fought at the battle of Copenhagen under Nelson, and in 1805 he was appointed governor of New South Wales, Australia. His harsh, authoritative temperament was bitterly resented, and he was forcibly deposed by Major George Johnston of the 102nd Foot, who sent him back to England as a prisoner. The major was cashiered for this piece of rough justice, while Bligh continued to enjoy the favours of the Admiralty. He became a vice-admiral in 1814, but further promotion was prevented by his death three years afterwards.
Posted in Boats, Bravery, Disasters, Historical articles, History on Thursday, 16 May 2013
This edited article about the Whitby lifeboat originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 257 published on 17 December 1966.
Storm over Robin Hood's Bay
Above the howl of the gale there came the sharp crack of maroons – the rockets which are fired to summon the crews of lifeboats. Into the rain-swept streets of the Yorkshire town of Whitby ran the lifeboat men, struggling into their oilskins, and throngs of anxious citizens. They shouted questions into the wind as they raced to the lifeboat shed, each afraid that a relative, a son or brother or husband, might be in danger.
As the boat was wheeled out on its high carriage, the news spread that the Whitby brig Visitor had foundered in Robin Hood’s Bay. The crew of eight had taken to the ship’s boat and were now at the mercy of the worst storm of the terrible winter of 1881. The force of the gale was such that the survivors could not get near the shore, and indeed if they could have done their boat would probably have capsized. Their only hope was the Whitby lifeboat.
But this was before the days when lifeboats had engines, and the lifeboat crew knew they could not make the trip to Robin Hood’s Bay in that weather.
“Our only chance to save them is to take the boat overland to the bay,” the coxswain shouted into the icy teeth of the gale.
A groan rose from the crowd, and a woman, whose son was one of the Visitor’s crew burst into sobs. Robin Hood’s Bay was six miles away. The road and tracks the lifeboat carriage would have to take were over steep country covered with deep drifts of snow. It seemed impossible to haul the heavy craft over such ground and reach the scene of the shipwreck in time.
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Posted in Boats, Bravery, Disasters, Historical articles on Wednesday, 8 May 2013
This edited article about survival originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 246 published on 1 October 1966.
For 32 tortuous days the little Polynesian sloop, Tearoha, had been lost at sea, blown heedlessly by the wind, battered by giant waves, and scorched by the blazing sun. The crew of seven had almost given up hope of ever seeing their island home again. The captain and two other men were seriously ill from exposure, and a pearl-diver called Teehu Makimare had taken command of the 16-ft. boat.
He spent hour after hour at the tiller, hoping they might eventually drift to Fiji, some 600 miles away. Then, as the men were resting their blistered, aching bodies, an even greater tragedy struck the Tearoha. A sudden onrush of wind made the sea boil, and the sloop capsized.
As Teehu struggled free from the upturned vessel, he realised that one of the sick men, Kita, was jammed in a bunk beneath the foredeck. While the rest of the sailors clung to the Tearoha’s sides, Teehu dived beneath the sloop and pulled Kita to the surface. He made a raft out of paddles and wood for two of the casualties to lie on. His next task was to try to right the sloop.
Time and time again he plunged under the Tearoha, cutting away at her tangled rigging.
Finally, he managed to roll the waterlogged boat over – only for her to turn turtle again as the rest of the crew clambered desperately aboard!
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Posted in Boats, Education, Historical articles, History, London, Sport on Monday, 22 April 2013
This edited article about the Boat Race originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 230 published on 11 June 1966.
The first Oxford and Cambridge boat race, held at Henley on 10 June 1829 by John Keay
June 10, 1829, was a great day at Henley. It was the day when, with 20,000 spectators crowding the banks of the Thames, Oxford defeated Cambridge in the first University boat race.
The boat that carried the dark blues to victory 137 years ago is still in existence; but only by a chance discovery.
In the summer of 1855, Sir Robert Menzies, who had rowed in the first Oxford crew, was on holiday in the South of England when, sheltering from a rainstorm in a shed, he noticed an old rowing boat half-hidden under a pile of rubbish.
Something about the boat seemed familiar, and after carefully examining it, Menzies was amazed to discover that it was the actual boat in which he had rowed with the Oxford eight twenty-six years before. Menzies bought the relic and sent it to his home on the shore of Loch Rannoch, Perthshire. It was thoroughly repaired, and for many years afterwards was used for fishing expeditions.
This is not so fantastic as it may seem, for the first racing boats were not a bit like those used today. In fact, they were just ordinary rowing boats built on narrow lines, with pointed bow and stern. But after a fishing expedition in which the historic boat received a severe buffeting, Menzies decided to take no further risks and kept her in a shed he built specially for the purpose.
In 1903, Menzies’s son presented the veteran craft to the Oxford University Boat Club.
Posted in Boats, Engineering, Famous Inventors, Historical articles, History, Inventions, Ships, Transport on Friday, 5 April 2013
This edited article about William Symington originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 219 published on 26 March 1966.
Symington’s steam-powered boat, the ‘Charlotte Dundas’
Every liner at sea is a monument to William Symington, who died in London, poor and forgotten, on March 22, 1831. For William Symington was the inventor of the first practical steam-powered boat.
Symington, who was born in October 1763, at Leadhills, Lanarkshire, became a mechanic at Wanlockhead Colliery in Dumfriesshire. While there he met an engineer, named Patrick Millar, who was experimenting with a small paddle-driven boat. Symington was asked to build a steam engine which would drive the paddles through a system of chains and ratchets.
The engine was a success, but the chain-and-ratchet drive was complicated and unreliable. Symington then built a new boat in which the paddles were driven through a shaft and connecting rod. This was the principle which since then has been used for all paddle steamers.
Symington named his boat Charlotte Dundas after the wife of Lord Dundas, who had financed the building of the boat. The Charlotte Dundas made her maiden voyage in 1790 and amazed a crowd of spectators by towing two heavily laden barges at a speed of nearly four miles an hour!
The Duke of Bridgewater, who was among the spectators, was so impressed that he asked Symington to build eight tug boats for use on the Bridgewater canal. But, because canal engineers said the wash from the paddles would destroy the canal banks, the order was cancelled.
Symington gave up experimenting with steamboats and came to London where he worked as a general mechanic until his death.
Posted in Australia, Boats, Historical articles, History, Law, Travel on Thursday, 28 March 2013
This edited article about Australia originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 215 published on 26 February 1966.
Eight men, one woman and two small children faced dangers on the voyage such that they could scarcely hope to survive — but the horrors and hardships of the life they were fleeing from made any risk worth taking, by Bill Lacey
The boat was old and leaky. In it were eight men, one woman and two small children. The dangers of the voyage were such that they could scarcely hope to survive – but the horrors and hardships of the life they were fleeing from made any risk worth taking
Among the thousands of convicts who were transported to the Australian penal colony at Botany Bay at the end of the eighteenth century was a young Cornish smuggler named William Bryant.
When William arrived in Australia, he married a young and pretty female convict named Mary. Her crime, for which she had been banished to the other side of the world, had been the theft of a cloak.
The Bryants found life in the colony more grim than they had ever expected. Bullied by guards, they had to work from sun-up to sun-down, and they knew that the slightest break of the strict discipline would mean cruel punishment.
Not only was the life hard because of the “crimes” the convicts had committed in England, but natural conditions made it worse. Crops failed, and at night raiding parties of natives would drive off cattle meant to support the unhappy settlers.
William decided that he could not endure the life any longer.
“There is no hope left in this land,” he said to his wife. “If only we could escape back to Mother England.”
“How can we?” Mary said. “England is over twelve thousand miles away.”
But the idea of returning to England took hold of Bryant. He dreamed about it at night, and whispered to his friends about it by day. Most of them shrugged.
Still he would not give up. When a Dutch schooner anchored in Sydney harbour, Bryant managed to see the captain secretly. He offered him money for an old, leaky six-oared boat which he saw on the deck. In the colony money had no value, the real currency being food and tobacco, and because of this Bryant still had all the money he had brought out with him. The captain accepted it for the boat, and, not being a mean man, threw in two hundred pounds of rice an old musket, and a compass.
With these stores and eight gallons of water, the Bryants, with the two children they now had, and seven male convicts, rowed away from the colony under cover of darkness on the night of March 28, 1791.
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