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Prepare for a surprise when you’re walking along the river near Southwark Cathedral, because you’ll come across a full-size replica of the Golden Hinde – the ship that took Francis Drake around the globe.
Drake was a sailor (and also a pirate!) during the reign of Elizabeth I, and undertook his circumnavigation between the years 1577 and 1580.
The Golden Hinde is unbelievably small considering what it achieved, especially when you realise that its cramped decks were home to more than eighty sailors. The ceilings are so low that visitors have to stoop to walk around.
This review originally appeared in his London blog
The first time you clap eyes on the Golden Hinde you’ll think it’s a wind-up. There’s no way that this thing can be full-size.
It’s supposed to be an exact replica of the boat that carried Francis Drake around the world, but it’s tiny. It’s like a decorated rowing boat. It would probably sink in a sink. I actually read the leaflet from cover to cover just to make sure that it definitely was full-size – and it is! How on earth did Drake manage to spend two years cooped up inside this little thing?
The replica’s official name is the Golden Hinde II, and you’ll be surprised to learn that it has actually sailed further than Drake did. It has been all around the world, up and down the coast of America, Asia, Japan and Africa. And you’ll be even more impressed when you actually step inside and see how cramped it is.
It’s difficult to believe that a crew of eighty people lived in this little tub for two years, sailing around the seven seas weighed down by barrels of fish and biscuits, and a hold full of Spanish silver. It must have been incredibly uncomfortable. The only real ‘bedroom’ is at the front, for Drake, and the rest had to make do with sleeping on the floor.
The gun deck and cargo levels are all at shoulder-height – and I am not exaggerating when I say you have to stoop down to walk through them. You practically have to bend your waist at 90 degrees to walk along, or you’ll bump your head on the beams above. I reckon if I spent more than two days on this thing then I’d have a crippling bad back. How did they manage it? They must have all been midgets or kids – there is no other explanation.
The ladders are pretty lethal as well. They are the kind of ladder that go straight down into oblivion. If you’re old, or young and unfit like me, then the boat doubles up as an obstacle course.
You can explore the whole boat from top to bottom in your own time. The only thing that you’re not allowed to do is climb the rigging up to the crow’s nest – thank God. But there is no way that I’d want to do that anyway. That is probably why they don’t have pirate ships these days, because they’d never get the crow’s nest past health and safety.
I found it quite amusing when they issued me with an A5 health and safety sheet before I boarded the boat: no smoking, no running, don’t bang your head, and be careful on the stairs… is this a genuine 16th-century document, I wondered? Francis Drake would have had a good hearty laugh at that.
There’s no audio-guide or anything like that. Just a little map which tells you the names of all the different sections. There are a few placards dotted around which tell you a few bits and bobs, but I got the impression that it’s mainly aimed at kids. There are no genuine artefacts onboard, no museum pieces – it’s not like the Cutty Sark in Greenwich. It’s all replicas. But it’s very well kitted out with cannons and barrels and a dining table for the officers.
You can even lie down in Francis Drake’s quarters and have a little kip. You can poke around the half-deck and forecastle, peer out the cannon’s portholes, and pretend to steer the ship’s wheel into the Thames. You can quite happily spend an hour of your time pretending to be a pirate.
I was pretty lucky with the timing because when I finished at 11 o’clock a big group of school kids turned up. It’s a very small boat, and having thirty kids running around screaming their heads off would certainly try my patience. They’d all be walking the plank inside five minutes. Whenever I’ve walked past the boat in the past it always seems to be crewed by a gang of noisy kids from the local schools – which was one of the reasons I’ve never been before. So if you’re going to visit the Golden Hinde then take my advice: go when it opens.
> Read Craig’s latest review of the Golden Hinde “It’s almost a shame that I have to tell you about this place because it’s much better left as a surprise. People should definitely find this place by accident and not be led there by a London guidebook. You can tell who’s not expecting it when they’re walking down the claustrophobic Clink Street, because they’ll suddenly come to a stop and start fiddling in their handbag for a camera. This is the Golden Hinde II – a near perfect replica of the ship that carried Francis Drake around the world. This is the ship in which the Elizabethean privateer (the polite name for a pirate) sacked the Spanish treasure ships, sailed round the tip of Argentina, up the west coast of America, and got back home in time to fight off the Spanish Armada… continued.”
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You can learn more about Britain’s naval history at the National Maritime Museum. A day-trip to Chatham Dockyards is also worth doing, or how about seeing the Mary Rose in Portsmouth? You can also explore the World War II cruiser HMS Belfast a little further down the river, or catch a City Cruise to Greenwich to see the Cutty Sark clipper ship.
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