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A rebellious imagination

On the link you’ll find a web page devoted to a working replica of the Matthew, the ship in which John Cabot first reached Newfoundland in 1497.

She’s only a best guess, because the information about her namesake is frustratingly sparse, but she’s a caravel of the correct tonnage, so she won’t be very far wrong (to my uninformed eyes, I suspect, indistinguishable – to a crewman of either the original or the imposter, as evidently different, as impossible to mistake, as two dogs might be to a boy who has raised them since they were pups and litter-mates).

She is, for non-specialists, 20 ft wide and a little under 80 ft long – a third wider than my mid-terrace home, and twice as long as the original body of the house – and she reached Newfoundland carrying only 20 men.

I’ve been on board the Matthew (though only when she was tied up), and I’ve probably seen her with 20 people aboard (she is an oddly disturbing sight gliding around Bristol harbour with no canvas up and no visible disturbance at her stern to make her engines conspicuous), but this is the point at which my imagination rebels. I simply cannot imagine as many as 20 men living and working on her for over a month. 20 men for a day cruise, perhaps. A handful of men living aboard her, possibly (though I realise, of course, that a handful of men cannot sail a caravel across an ocean) … but 20 men for some months? My mind simply boggles.

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2 comments on “A rebellious imagination

  1. Comfort was not of premium concern – did it inspire you to write a pirate tale? 😉

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