Saturday, 11 May 2013

Saturday

Still in Plymouth with a strong west wind howling through the rigging of the yachts in the marina. At least there are things to see and do here. I once spent 5 days weatherbound on the small Dutch island of Vlieland where the only things to do were to walk round the island, and watch other yachts being towed in by the lifeboat.

English cartoon of Napoleon's transport plan. (Historum.com)
Plymouth of course is a fine natural harbour.  A little appreciated aspect of British history is that while we have many large natural harbours on the South coast - from Harwich to Milford Haven - France has none. This made the English coast hard to attack and relatively easy for a navy to defend. The Spanish Armada failed for lack of a safe harbour for shelter and resupply. In 1804 Napoleon had 120,000 men at Boulogne and 3,000 barges and gunboats, but the logistical problems of getting the troops and their kit into small shallow draft craft in a tidal harbour and over the Channel in a reasonable time were too great.

Therefore when the French enlarged Cherbourg to be a major harbour in the 1850s it was seen as a direct threat to England and prompted the building of fortifications at the entrances to Plymouth, Portsmouth and elsewhere which are still in place.

Plymouth is still an important naval base and we see huge warships come and go every day seemingly unaffected by the bad weather. We could perhaps ask what threat these enormously expensive ships are defending us from in today's world, but maybe you can never know when a deterrent has worked - only when it hasn't.


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