|The Mayflower departing Plymouth by William Halsall (1882)|
Last night was stormy on the marina. The wind was up to 55 knots, which is the top end of force 10 and is a lot. Today was better, but the Mate (who has been a bit unwell) is still convalescent so we decided it would be wiser to spend the day walking round Plymouth and leave (I very much hope) tomorrow.
The old bit of town around the original harbour is the Barbican and there are lots of brass plaques and monuments reminding us of the various overseas expeditions that were associated with the town, some from Elizabethan times. The Mayflower memorial from 1620 which includes the above quote is one of many. No doubt part of their purpose is to attract Americans and Canadians searching for their roots real or imagined.
However these monuments also remind us that once Plymouth and places like it were at the forefront of world exploration and the town would have been buzzing with news of distant lands and strange discoveries.
There is a popular view of the sailor of a few centuries ago as something out of 'Pirates of the Carribean' - lecherous, ignorant, evil looking brigands drinking rum in smoke-filled waterside taverns and plotting their next act of piracy. No doubt a fair bit of that went on, but there is another side as well. In the 16th and 17th centuries ocean exploration was at the forefront of knowledge: new and exciting and attracting the brightest, the most energetic and most adventurous. Great advances in astronomy and mathematics were being made to improve navigation. Like space travel today there were many exciting possibilities and unknown dangers.
Few names of individual sailors have come down to us from those days but the memorials around the old harbour are evidence of the energy and enterprise that this port had in such abundance long ago.