February 17, 2014


Searching for the Golden Hinde (David Wesley Hill, 2/09/14, English Historical Fiction Authors)

Only one authentic picture of the Golden Hinde survives. This is an engraving on a coconut shell, currently in the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, which Drake presented to the queen as a souvenir. Unfortunately, the carving lacks detail and little about the actual vessel can be learned from it.

What is certain is that the Golden Hinde was a galleon, which is unsurprising since galleons were the marine workhorses of the 16th century. Their compact design allowed them to be used equally well as merchant ships and as military vessels. Most displaced less than 500 tons and carried three masts, two square-rigged and one lanteen-rigged. From their 15th-Century predecessor, the carrack, they inherited high forecastles and bulky sterns, which provided a ship's crew the advantage of elevation while battling another vessel at close quarters. The Golden Hinde, however, was race-built, after plans developed in France and promoted in England by Sir Richard Hawkins. This meant her fore- and aft-castles had been razored down, decreasing her windage, making her fast and agile, as well as better suited for naval warfare that relied on artillery rather than on hand-to-hand combat.

According to modern estimates, the Golden Hinde was 102 feet long, excluding her bowsprit, from which hung a rectangular sail known as the spritsail. Her beam was 20 feet. She displaced between 100 - 120 tons. She did not have a figurehead. Nor did she have a steering wheel--the rudder was controlled by a system of long rods known as a whip-staff. Her masts rose over eighty feet above the deck, exposing four thousand square feet of canvas to the wind, allowing the ship to make eight knots in a fair breeze. Between the lower and upper halves of her main masts were platforms known as fighting tops, which served as fortified roosts for archers during battle. Her sails were plain flax, except for the top fore- and main-sails, each of which was emblazoned with a red cross. This is how Nuno da Silva, the Portuguese pilot kidnapped by Drake in the Cape Verdes, described the Golden Hinde when questioned by Inquisition officials in 1579:

"The Capitana [Golden Hinde] is in a great measure stout and strong. She has two sheathings, one as perfectly finished as the other. She is fit for warfare and is a ship of the French pattern, well fitted out and finished with very good masts, tackle and double sails. She is a good sailer and the rudder governs her well. She is not new, nor is she coppered nor ballasted. She has seven armed port-holes on each side, and inside she carries eighteen pieces of artillery, thirteen being of bronze and the rest of cast iron, also an abundance of all sorts of ammunition of war... Taking it all in all, she is a ship which is in a fit condition to make a couple of voyages from Portugal to Brazil."

Although a 100-foot ship may seem tiny today, when cruisers, cargo vessels, and tankers regularly exceed 1,000 feet in length, it is important to realize that the Golden Hinde was small even in her own era, particularly considering how heavily she was burdened and how many men she carried. In the 16th Century a merchant ship her size would have had a crew of less than twenty officers and sailors since then, just as in our own time, the cost of labor affected the profitability of any enterprise. More than sixty men, however, sailed aboard the Golden Hinde. This company included a dozen gentlemen adventurers, investors in the voyage and their relations, as well as soldiers and armorers; artisans such as smiths, coopers, carpenters, and sail makers; a troupe of musicians; a pastor; and additional sailors. All these extra men were needed not only for their professional expertise but as replacements for those expected to die during the voyage. They were also needed to man the cannon, which each required a gang of three or four men to operate efficiently.

It is estimated that the Golden Hinde carried enough supplies to allow even so large an expedition to remain independent of the land for six months to a year. 
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Posted by at February 17, 2014 5:50 PM

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