First laid down in 1759, HMS Victory is the last remaining ship of the line and by the slender margin of 30 years, she is also the oldest commissioned warship in the world.Although she served in several other campaigns, Victory is best known for her role as Nelson's flagship at the battle of Trafalgar in 1805. Rather than drawing alongside the combined navies of France and Spain in the traditional manner, Nelson attacked perpendicular to the line. This meant that the British fleet, and Victory in particular, would have to endure being 'raked' on the run in. Cannonballs flying along the length of the decks are much more dangerous than ones going across, and the fact that Victory's fore top sail alone had 90 holes in it at the end of the battle gives some idea of the ferocity of the bombardment. The payoff though, was that every single British gunner would each be offered the chance to return the compliment and rake an enemy vessel at point blank range as they passed through the line.
Buried deep in the bows of the ship is the surprisingly roomy workshop of the ship's carpenter. It is at this point that the sudden realisation hits you - they built and maintained these things entirely with hand tools!
Six thousand oak trees in this one vessel alone, and every single one of them cut down, riven, sawn, shaped and fitted together by hand. This achievement is made all the more remarkable when you consider that Benjamin Huntsman was still in the process of developing the first high quality edge tool steel at the time.
One of the nice things about Portsmouth Historic Dockyard is that you don't feel like a tourist being herded through a process. You are free to explore the various ships and exhibits at will, visit the tea room for exceptional and very reasonably priced cakes if you want to, or wander into the gift shop of your own volition.
As you would expect, the shop is choc full of pens, mugs, plates, keyrings and other 'souvenirs'. I have always thought on trips to museums and historical attractions, how wonderful it would be to able to take home a real artefact as a souvenir - something genuine! Of course I have always dismissed the thought as pie in the sky, you can't possibly expect these places to sell genuine artefacts as souvenirs....can you?
Lo and behold, in the corner of the shop was a glass cabinet full of lumps of oak that had been removed from Victory during the current restoration work. They were being sold off with the proceeds going to help fund the restoration work. Apparently there are lots of people who wouldn't want to own a smelly old lump of wood and prefer a nice baseball hat or a t-shirt instead - I'm not one of them.
Here it is, complete with an iron nail, layers of whitewash and the smell of the sea! I'm inclined to keep it just as it is, but everyone keeps asking me what I am going to do with it?
What would you do?