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A very damp deck

Visit to Portsmouth Dockyard

15 September, 2009

However little attention was paid in our history lessons at school, we have all heard of Nelson, his flagship "Victory" and the battle of Trafalgar. And so it was that on a wet and miserable morning (the only unpleasant day in September) we gathered in anticipation in Stocklund Square to begin another CDFAS visit, this time to the Royal Naval Dockyard at Portsmouth.

After coffee on our arrival at the Dockyard, we were treated, as a group, to a conducted tour of "Victory". We learnt she was launched in 1765, is the oldest naval ship still in commission, albeit in a dry dock and that six thousand trees were used in its construction, 90% of which were oak. At a cost of £63,176  3s., at today's figures just under £7m, it was not a cheap ship.

HMS Warrier, built 1860, moored alongside the old Isle of Wight ferry slipwayDuring the atmospheric tour we learned that several expressions, still in everyday use, came from the circumstances of life on board; such as "a square meal", "on the fiddle", "son of a gun" and "no room to swing a cat". We saw the contrast between the opulent quarters for the officers and the crowded and cramped conditions in which the remainder of the crew lived. In the confined space afforded by this ship, everything and everyone had their place and a strict rule of conduct was enforced. With a total crew in excess of 800 and more than 100 guns, plus gunpowder, to say nothing of the very youthful ages of some of the crew, today's Health & Safety police would not have known where to start!

On the tour we saw the exact spot where Nelson received his fatal blow in October 1805, now marked with a brass plate, and were told that instead of the customary burial at sea his body was brought back to England, preserved in a barrel of brandy! Nelson was eventually buried in St. Paul's Cathedral in January 1806 after lying in state at Greenwich.

The modern way of boarding VictoryFollowing the "Victory" tour the group made
its way to the "Mary Rose" viewing area to see the amazing sight of an almost intact starboard side of the ship. For us this was an unexpected bonus as we had been led to believe it would be closed the weekend prior to our visit. In fact it closed the weekend after and would remain closed for the next two and a half to three years to allow construction of a new facility. Viewing the hull, which is being carefully preserved by spraying with polyethylene glycol, one tried to imagine this great ship, built in the early 1500s and the then pride of the English fleet. Afterwards we were able to enter the Mary Rose Museum where a staggeringly large number of artefacts were on display. These included skeletons of the crew, tools, guns, eating utensils, games and even musical instruments. An interesting aside, is that many of the skeletons had the "os acromiale" feature, showing that they had been archery trained from childhood and beyond with the mediaeval war bow (this needs a pull three times as strong as the modern standard Olympic bow!).

A rest - the rain was yet to come!After lunch, by which time the rain had begun in earnest, we each went our own way to visit the various attractions on offer, some even managed the harbour tour. For the writers of this article the "HMS Victory & Royal Naval Museum" provided further fascinating information and the enactment of the Battle of Trafalgar" was particularly enjoyed.

All too soon the time for departure arrived and it was back on the coach for Cranleigh. All in all this proved to be yet another successful trip and a very interesting day during which it was good to be able to chat to other Cranleigh DFAS members over coffee and lunch.

Janet & Brian Wright