People are often surprised when they ask me what my particular interests are and I tell them life at sea and naval warfare 1700 – 1899, and European battles in the late medieval period, particularly armour and weaponry from 1400 – 1510.
Sailors (whether military or merchant) spent more time aboard than with their wives or mothers so, over time, ships were seen as a parallel to a marriage and a family. This was particularly true centuries ago when boys became sailors at age 9 and were at sea for years at a time, seeing their loved ones very very seldom. The ship was their home and their livelihood. It was a hard and dangerous life.
Regarding my interest in life at sea, I love the Master and Commander and Horatio Hornblower series of books by Patrick O’ Brian and C.S Forester respectively.
Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World was made into a 2003 film starring Russell Crowe and Paul Bettany (and also if you like The Vampire Diaries and The Originals, it has Joseph Morgan in it). It is one of the few films I can watch over and over and be just as spellbound. I find it very difficult to concentrate right the way through a movie because I like doing two or three things at the same time but this is one where I am transfixed throughout. It so accurately depicts life and war at sea. No romance, no glamour. Just a beautiful man of war frigate and all the souls who sail in her. All the work with the wind, the sails and the navigation. The little powder monkeys who looked to be about six years old. Not surprising it received 10 Oscar nominations and won two. If you watch the scenes where they round Cape Horn you realise why it won an Oscar for Best Cinematography.
I actually met Russell Crowe when he was in Stockholm for the premiere. He was further from the arrogant yob the media portrays than you could possibly imagine. Quiet, polite, wanted to learn some Swedish for the premiere so he could thank the audience in their own language (how many Hollywood stars would do that?) and then went for a walk by himself through the Old Town.
I think I am probably interested in life at sea during this period because at the time South Africa was a refreshment station for ships travelling between Europe and the East for silks and spices. They would break their long journeys and stop for repairs, food and water. During apartheid our history was written from the side of the Europeans so we learned a lot of European history and how it affected South Africa. We learned a great deal about Portuguese explorers Bartholomew Diaz and Vasco Da Gama as well as Jan Van Riebeek, Dutch explorer, and how hard life was at sea for sailors during these times. How wonderful it must have been for them to sail into Table Bay and feel safe after months at sea.
Sweden also recently built a sailing replica of the Götheborg, an 18th-century Swedish East Indiaman. It is the world’s largest operational wooden sailing vessel and has sailed around the world, including my home town in South Africa.