Having just got back from Portsmouth, NH we thought it would be hilarious to visit the UK alternative. Turns out Portsmouth is one of three naval bases in the UK, and one with loads of history. I was most keen to see the HMS Victory (Lord Neslon's flagship - Nelson being much more familiar after all that studying for the Indefinite leave to remain test!).
It was good, Portsmouth is a relatively easy drive from London, and the day while grey wasn't too cold (not like Boston had been). Well, talk about blown away by the dockyards. The HMS Victory, for a start was massive. It had 104 cannons (!), and you can see how they fit hundreds of men aboard (though I wonder at the conditions).
There was some pretty clever engineering too - all the cannons were operated by gun powder, and the lighting solution at the time was flame. So, they stored all the gunpowder in a special room with massive, frosted windows. It was lined with copper, to stop rats from gnawing their way and trailing powder about the ship (which would have been a terrible, terrible thing, could you imagine?). On the other side of the windows, was a lamp room. You couldn't walk from one room to the other, there was a rather roundabout way to make sure there was no need/chance for flame in the powder room.
For a ship designed in 1759, that's pretty impressive. They also let us play with the flint mechanism on one of the canons. Holy crap! Part of the reason Nelson won the Battle of Trafalgar was because of that little lighting/flint mechanism. That and apparently Nelson trained his men hard - six men to a canon. They could fire and reload in as little as 90 seconds (!) - much much faster than the Spanish/French opposition.
It was chilling standing on the spot where Nelson was shot (there's a plaque, in theory it's pretty grim but it's now such a tourist-y thing, so many people were taking photos with their ipads). Another interesting tidbit was that while the men mostly slept in a hammock (being more comfortable on the rolling seas) Nelson slept in a cot. Apparently because of his pride - by the time the Battle of Trafalgar came about, he only had one arm and couldn't pull himself in or out of a hammock - so he had a cot. Isn't that interesting??
There as an old history buff, who sat just before the exit (right next to the gunpowder room) and woah buddy, he was full of facts and stories and tidbits like that. We didn't get the audio guide, instead we had a ten minute chat and got an intense but interesting stream of stories.
One which made me laugh (and grossed me out) was when he explained what a 'towrag' was. I've always heard it as an insult, 'stop being a towrag!' type thing, though in my head it was always 'toe rag'. Turns out a tow rag is a bit of cloth tied to a rope which is towed behind the boat. When a sailor needs to go the bathroom, he does his business and pulls in the rope to clean himself up, throwing the bit of cloth back into the ocean to clean itself ready for the next person. Grim, gross but also a pretty practical solution.
We also watched a video on the Mary Rose - Henry the VIIIs ship, launched in 1510! She sank in the Solent, maybe 45 years later in a skirmish against the French. Well, in the 70s, hundreds of years later they found the wreckage, and hauled a whole bunch of it up. It's currently being preserved, as it's exposure to air would damage the remains further (or something, it didn't go into too much detail). Fairly interesting though, a little tudor time capsule!