Wednesday, November 6, 2013

All Hands on Deck! Stepping aboard a 16th century experience

Elizabeth II at Edenton Dock
As part of our town's 300th Anniversary Celebration, Edenton, North Carolina recently hosted a visit by the representative ship, Elizabeth II. The 69 foot, square-rigged ship was built to commemorate the 400th Anniversary of Sir Walter Raleigh's exploratory expeditions to the New World and, since 1984, has allowed us to travel back in time to experience a taste of those extraordinary adventures. The construction of Elizabeth II was carried out by a building and rigging crew in Manteo, North Carolina, along the same banks first explored by the English settlers. When not sailing to other ports of call, the Elizabeth II floats in Shallowbag Bay at Roanoke Island Festival Park in Manteo, along the famous Outer Banks of North Carolina.

Flag of St George and the Tudors
Upon first seeing the vessel, I am struck by the sensation of viewing an art work come to life since our only visual experiences with such ships are through paintings and drawings of the time. The Elizabeth II was built with an eye to historical accuracy and no detail was overlooked. The ship's design was based upon several merchant ships that plied the seas and crossed the Atlantic between 1584 and 1587 at the command of Queen Elizabeth I. As I stand on the dock gazing at the ship, flags ripple in the gentle October breeze. They, too, are representatives of their time. One flag is white with brilliant green stripes, Elizabeth's family Tudor flag, and others display the red cross of Saint George, the patron saint of England.
Elizabeth II Rigging
Stern of Elizabeth II at Edenton Dock
Ropes Below Deck
Captain's Quarters
Costumed interpreters welcome us aboard and gently guide us around the many trip hazards at our 21st century feet and remind us to mind our heads as we descend into the lower depths of the ship. Not only was the ship built to look like a ship of old, it was constructed using 16th century methods. The spars (masts, yards, booms, poles) were built from wood procured from Tacoma, Washington. The large spars were made of Douglas fir and the smaller ones were made of Sitka spruce. Each mast and yard was made out of one tree selected for its appropriate size, stripped of its bark and turned on a large lathe to the exact dimensions needed. The 16th century technology employed even went so far as to having the huge sails hand sewn. The sailmaker chosen for this task was Nathaniel Wilson of East Boothbay, Maine.

Turning the Capstan to lower the anchor
As we climbed down the steps leading below deck, I was cognizant of the confined spaces that would have housed the 50 men on board such a vessel. Reaching the lower deck I heard the soft Scottish accent of a man, dressed in the manner of a 16th century seaman, explaining the origin of the term "son of a gun." According to this man (who could have easily passed for Johnny Depp!) captains would sometimes bring their wives along on voyages but disguise them as men and often have them work as gunner's mates. When the inevitable happened and these gunners ended up in childbirth, the baby boy was called a "son of a gun." I have heard other explanations for the term, but will leave that for another day.

My dear 89 year old mother accompanied my husband and me on the tour of the ship and as
she posed for a photo I was reminded of the irony of the situation. Some of her ancestors (and mine, too, of course) were among the native inhabitants of this New World along with other ancestors of ours who were part of the English settlers who first met them.
My mother, Oleta Wood, aboard Elizabeth II

Have a good week, dear Reader. Thanks for stopping by...Y'all come back now!


(All photos on this post were taken by my husband, William Ahearn, and used with his kind permission.)


Bevan Wasserman said...

What an awesome experience!

Kathryn Louise Wood said...

It really makes history come alive. They have done an amazing job reproducing this kind of ship.

Jenny Barden said...

Wonderful pictures - and some very interesting background. I love that you and your mother were on a replica of s ship like the one that brought your ancestors to America. - Quite something!

Kathryn Louise Wood said...

Thanks Jenny! Yes, a great sense of irony knowing some of our ancestors saw America for the first time on board such a ship and others of our ancestors saw the English for the first time as they disembarked from such a ship