The sweet-lined 51ft gaff ketch was owned and sailed by Erskine Childers, author of The Riddle of the Sands. In 1914 Childers, an Irish republican supporter, loaded her with tons of German manufactured Mauser rifles transhipped from a tug in the English Channel and sailed them to Howth, Ireland for the Irish Volunteers. This was a direct response to the Ulster Volunteers being armed from England.
Some of the weapons were used in the notorious Easter Rising in which 485 people were killed. Childers was later executed by firing squad by pro-partition Irish forces.
The boat was briefly owned by Royal Yacht Squadron Commodore, Maldwin Drummond who told me he found a rifle in her lining when he had her restored!
Asgard is on permanent public display at Collins Barracks, Dublin.
2. Australia II
This 12-metre class yacht ended 132 years of the New York Yacht Club’s domination of the America’s Cup race. She was launched in 1982 and beat the Americans the following year, taking the illustrious America’s Cup back to the Royal Perth Yacht Club in Western Australia.
She had a then unique secret weapon: a winged keel that gave her a hydrodynamic lift on the wind.
When she won the cup I was sent by the Daily Star newspaper – not a noted publication for yacht racing – to the biggest Australian pub in central London to cover the celebrations!
In 2001, while a staffer on Yachting Monthly magazine, I got the chance to helm Australia II herself during the America’s Cup Jubilee in the Solent.
She is on permanent display at the Western Australian Maritime Museum.
The Thames spritsail barge is the last vessel to carry cargo under sail alone in Great Britain and northern Europe. The 91ft vessel sets 5,000 square feet of sail. Her loaded freight including cattle feed, grain, and cement from the London Docks to all ports from the Humber in Yorkshire to Exeter in Devon as well as the continental ports along the North Sea and the English Channel. Crewed by a man, a boy and a dog, I was the last boy to mate on her from 1969 to 70 when we carried her last freight from Tilbury Dock to Ipswich.
Cambria was re-built with a million-pound grant – much of it from the Heritage Lottery Fund – and is sailing again today. She is open to the public and available for charter. I recently took up the post of chairman of the Cambria Trust.
4. Cutty Sark
The only surviving tea clipper in the world, this 212ft full-rigged ship held the record for the fastest passage back to the UK from Australia during the wool trade for 10 years. The wool trade replaced the tea run from Canton following the improvement of steam engines and the cutting of the Suez Canal.
In 1954 she was dry-docked at Greenwich in south-east London and opened as a museum. Following a devastating fire and a £35 million restoration, she was reopened to the public in 2012.
When I was a school-boy my father took me to see her in the 1950s because his father, Captain Richard Stephens, had been at sea as an apprentice aboard the three-mast barque, Pass of Killiecrankie, when both ships passed one another in the South Atlantic.
Cutty Sark is now fully restored and raised up on a glass dias so visitors can walk beneath her keel. She is on permanent display at Greenwich.
5. HM Bark Endeavour Replica
This 143ft replica of explorer James Cook’s original vessel, unlike other less authentic replicas, has made around the world passages to Europe, the US and the Far East.
Aboard the original, James Cook made his famous voyage of discovery charting the coasts of Australia and New Zealand from 1768 to 1771. Six years later the forgotten ship was unceremoniously scuttled as a blockade hulk at Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island, during the American War of Independence.
The replica has been used in the Russell Crowe film Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, and is on public display at the Australian National Maritime Museum, Darling Harbour, Sydney, New South Wales.
Said to be the strongest ship ever built and designed by Colin Archer whose name is more often associated with tough little yachts. The 128ft three-masted schooner was built of greenheart and designed to freeze into the Arctic ice sheet, but with a round bilge so she would pop up as the ice gripped and sit on top of the floe. Then, gripped in such a way she would float over the North Pole. She made the names Nansen and later Amundsen world-famous in the annals of polar exploration between 1893 and 1912. The latter beat the UK explorer Robert Scott to the South Pole.
Fram still holds the record for having both sailed the furthest north and the furthest south. Is now a museum piece in Oslo, Norway.
7. Gipsy Moth IV
Francis Chichester set off from Plymouth in this 53ft ketch but when he returned in 1968 having sailed solo around the world, with just one stop in Sydney, he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II and became a Sir Francis Chicester.
The cold-moulded hull was then laid up at Greenwich alongside the Cutty Sark for many decades until she started to fall to pieces. A rescue bid was launched by the staff of Yachting Monthly magazine and the marine industry and she was restored and taken around the world again, this time in stages, to celebrate the magazine’s centenary and the 40th anniversary of Chichester’s voyage. I was aboard as crew leader for two legs: Gibraltar to Tenerife and through the Suez Canal.
Gipsy Moth is now privately owned in the UK and available for charter.
8. Golden Hind
A replica of the ship in which Sir Francis Drake made a circumnavigation in Elizabethan times is open to the public in Southwark on the south bank of the River Thames in London.
In the original 102ft full-rigged ship Drake sailed around the world from 1577 to 1580 capturing a Spanish galleon en route which was loaded with £480 million worth of gold in today’s money.
It took four days to tranship the gold aboard Drake’s ship and when he returned home he was knighted for his services which included writing off Elizabeth I’s government debt with money still to play with. The replica is a sea-going vessel and has made passages across the Atlantic.
9. James Caird
Sir Ernest Shackleton’s 1914-1917 bid to cross Antarctica ended in failure when his ship Endurance was crushed in polar ice and sank. But the subsequent rescue of his entire crew became a greater feat in many sailors’ eyes. The major part of that deliverance was in the incredible 17-day, 1,300-kilometre voyage of the decked-out 22ft lifeboat. With Shackleton at the helm and a four-strong crew, including a carpenter and a navigator, James Caird made the epic passage across the Southern Ocean from Elephant Island, Antarctica to South Georgia in 1916.
James Caird is on display at Shackleton’s old University, Dulwich College, London.
The square-rigged raft sailed by Thor Heyerdahl and his five-strong crew proved an ancient legend: that Polynesia’s first visitors came from South America. In 1947 the 45ft raft made of balsa logs lashed together and which supported a bamboo hut, set off from Callao Harbour Peru and drifted 4,300 miles in the Humboldt Current. After 101 days the raft was caught in surf and wrecked on a coral reef just off the island of Raroia. No matter, they had made it and were later rescued by native Polynesians on the far side of the island.
Kon-Tiki was towed to Tahiti and shipped back to Norway where she is now on display in Oslo.
11. Lively Lady
Southsea greengrocer Alec Rose sailed this 36ft wooden yawl solo around the world in 1968 with one-stop at Melbourne from Portsmouth and back again in 318 days. He actually set out before Chichester in Gipsy Moth IV but breakages saw him put into port for repair and spurred the ambitious Chichester on to become the ‘first.’
But Sir Alec, as he became, captured the heart of the nation in a way Chichester failed to do. This was because of his modesty and the fact he did it unsupported from corporate sponsorship. His simple humility towards the forces of nature is exemplified in a passage from his book My Lively Lady, when he sighted a whale: ‘He was vast and had a mottled grey look of age about him…He lay in the trough of the big seas and I thought of his great strength and power – symbolic of the wild, cruel Southern Ocean.’
Lively Lady can now be viewed publicly in Port Solent, Hampshire.
12. Mary Rose
In July 1545 King Henry VIII watched his favourite battleship fire a broadside at the invading French fleet from her starboard cannon then tack to fire a second cannonade from her port side. The gun ports were left open and as the starboard side dipped to the breeze the 148ft long ship sank off Portsmouth. Over 450 sailors and soldiers drowned in minutes.
In October 1982 I reported for the Daily Star on the raising of the royal ship. I watched as the dripping, black planking of the warship was lifted from the waters of the Solent in a purpose-built yellow jig.
She then spent years being carefully hosed and covered in a preservative coating while thousands of artefacts from leather boots, crockery, and human bones, to cannons, helmets and swords were treated.
Mary Rose can be visited all year round in her shed in Portsmouth, England.
A replica of the 78ft caravel originally used to ship cases of Bordeaux from France to Bristol, which was sailed by Venetian-born John Cabot across the Atlantic to Newfoundland in 1497. He was the first European to land on what would eventually be named America.
Cabot discovered the great cod nurseries there and was later funded by King Henry VII to take a fleet across but nothing was ever heard from him again.
The replica, which is on public display in Bristol, was built in time for the 500th anniversary of the crossing in 1997.
This 377ft four-masted steel-hulled barque began life sailing the ‘wrong way’ around Cape Horn to load birdlime (nitrates) in Valparaiso, Chile to fertilise the farms of Europe and was in commission until the cutting of the Panama Canal provided a more efficient route.
Re-named Arethusa, she spent many years moored at Upnor, on the River Medway in Kent, England, where she provided seamanship training for ‘poor boys of good character’ on their way to a career at sea.
As a schoolboy, I camped in my sailing dinghy in the woods at Upnor and I was often awakened by ‘reveille’; a bugle aboard the ship to wake the crew. I actually boarded her many years later when she was an exhibit at South Street Seaport, New York.
In 2015 Peking was towed back to Germany and is now on display at the German Port Museum in Hamburg, the port of her original build.
15. Star of India
A 205ft three-masted barque built in 1863, Star Of India is the oldest vessel in the world still sailing regularly and the oldest iron-hulled ship afloat.
Her maiden voyage from Liverpool to Calcutta in 1864 saw her collide with an unlit Spanish brig at night off the Welsh coast. The crew mutinied, refusing to continue the voyage and she made her way into Anglesey where the crew were jailed. In 1865 her crew were forced to cut away the rig during a cyclone in the Bay of Bengal and her skipper, William Storey, died on board and was buried at sea.
She is open to the public at the Maritime Museum of San Diego, California.
When the teak-hulled 32ft ketch sailed into Falmouth Roads, a customs officer hailed her skipper, Robin Knox-Johnston asking him: ‘Where from?’. ‘Falmouth,’ came the reply. Knox-Johnston had left that port 313 days and 30,000 miles earlier and had sailed into the record books becoming the first person to sail solo and non-stop around the world.
The record had begun as the Golden Globe Non-Stop Round The World Race, but Knox-Johnston was the only person to complete it. Others retired, were shipwrecked or, in the case of Donald Crowhurst, committed suicide in the attempt.
I raced a few years back with Sir Robin Knox-Johnston aboard his globe-trotting boat, which is on display at the National Maritime Museum, Falmouth, and can report that all those years on he remains a fit and focussed sailor, but one who still fears a lee shore.
17. USS Constitution
Sporting 44 guns over her 304 length this 1797 built, three-masted frigate, although made of wood, was also known as ‘Old Ironsides’ after cannonballs bounced off her topsides. She was named and launched by President George Washington and began a long career at sea fighting Barbary pirates who were raiding American ships.
She fought the British in the 1812-1815 war in which Great Britain supported native Indians against the Americans.
In the American Civil War, Union soldiers were billeted aboard to prevent her scuttling by Confederate sympathisers.
She is open to the public at the USS Constitution Museum in Boston, Massachusetts.
She was to be the greatest warship of all time ordered by King Gustav II Adolf of Sweden to fight against his Polish-Lithuanian enemy across the Baltic Sea. But the 226ft long, 64 cannoned hull had an air draft of 164ft and even with 120 tonnes of ballast she was tender.
It was discovered when the Dutch boat builder ordered 30 men to run backwards and forwards across her deck. The ship took on an alarming roll, but nobody was brave enough to tell the war-hungry king. She set sail in 1628 on her maiden voyage where a gust of wind pushed her over on her port side where the lower gunports had not been closed. She filled immediately and sank with the loss of 30 crew.
Vasa was raised in 1961 and has been on display in Stockholm ever since.
Some say she is the most famous ship in the world and certainly her decks withstand thousands of visitors each year at her permanent home in Portsmouth. Built at Chatham Dockyard in 1759 this 152ft long warship has had so much timber replaced under various patrons including Queen Victoria and King Edward VII that there is little left of the original.
Victory was the flagship of Lord Nelson and the ship upon which he died, a French musket ball in his abdomen, as she fought at the Battle of Trafalgar against a combined French-Spanish fleet in 1805.
She was unusual for her time because she had a greater freeboard than other man-of-war. This was to ensure she could fire her lowest tier of guns in any weather.
She was the largest wrought iron sailing ship afloat when she was built in Southampton in 1885 for the jute trade (see below) running from India to Scotland.
When that trade died she became a ‘tramp’ taking cargoes to any paying destination. Dis-masted off Cape Horn in 1910 she limped into the Falklands and eventually became a sand ‘barge’ in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Following a restoration project in 2015, Wavertree was towed to the South Street Seaport in New York City.
*Jute is a long, soft, shiny bast fibre that can be spun into coarse, strong threads.