By Philip K. Allan
The Teredo worm is a long, slimy, grey mollusc that can grow up to three feet long and an inch thick. It was feared by 18th century sailors, because of its voracious appetite for wood. Teredos bore long cylindrical holes into the timbers of ships, often in such numbers that only a thin wall is left between each worm’s chamber, reducing the strongest oak to little more than a honeycomb. As the ship becomes ever more fragile, the hull can break apart in the open sea, perhaps under the stress of rough weather, and without any warning. Sailors would recount dark tales of ships that vanished, far out at sea, when their worm-infested bottoms simply fell away.
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By Philip K. Allan
In 1747, the French dispatched a vital convoy of thirty merchantmen to carry reinforcements and supplies to their troops in North America. They were being protected by a small naval force, including four ships of the line. On the 14th of May, off Cape Finisterre in Spain, the convoy was intercepted by a much larger British force detached from the Channel Fleet. The French warships fought bravely to protect their charges, but outnumbered as they were, they were decisively defeated.
This minor action might have gone unnoticed by all but a few naval historians, were it not for the fact that it was the first time that the British encountered a new type of warship. The Royal Navy had considerable difficulty in defeating one of their French opponents in particular. It was a large two-decked ship of the line called Invincible that proved particularly troublesome. She put up such heroic resistance that at one stage she was engaged by no less than six Royal Navy ships. The Invincible was one of a revolutionary new French design that was soon to dominate the navies of the world. Like all ships of the time, she was identified by the number of guns that she carried, which was 74.
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By Philip K Allan
Ilfracombe is a charming little port on the North Devon coast in England. Close to its bustling harbour is the base of the local scuba diving club, who have a large and active body of members. Many are keen wreck divers, and the busy but treacherous waters off Illfracombe provide rich pickings for their amusement. Over the centuries, numerous ships have foundered on this coastline, as the dive club’s bar bears witness. It is an Aladdin’s cave of maritime artefacts. Portholes and valves, ships telegraphs and wheels stud the walls, while smaller items crowd the window sills. In one corner, near to the back, are a number of dull grey conical objects. They generally have a round depression in the bottom, and a hole through where a line would once have been. In spite of their modest size, they can catch out the unwary who idly pick them up. Made of solid lead, that are surprisingly heavy – generally about fourteen pounds. These are ships’ leads that have been lost over the years by vessels probing their way in and out of the harbour.
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On a Russian tall-ship the crisp command, “Paruznj avral! Paruznj avral!” means one thing only. “All hands on deck!” It doesn’t matter whether crew are off watch and sleeping, or having a meal, in the heads, or peeling spuds. “Paruznj avral!” usually means the wind direction or velocity has changed and all hands are required, immediately, to alter the set of the sails.
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