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Launch weekend in Plymouth

Updated: Aug 27, 2023

Breakfasting in our lovely Air BNB in the Barbican, we can see the masts of the Oosterschelde in Sutton Harbour – and the adventure feels very tangible! Charlie, Jo and Keith have come to see me off and to explore the quirky history of Plymouth, which may have been the last port the Mayflower saw before landing in Cape Cod. I love that, instead of the historic “blue plaques” you see in London, there are planters in all the cobbled streets, sharing fun facts from the city. Who’d have guessed that John Howland, a passenger on the Mayflower (who all but drowned on the way over), had so many famous descendants, inluding Franklin D Roosevelt, George Bush, Ralph Waldo and Humphrey Bogart 😊

The Oosterschelde has been welcoming visitors all weekend and it was such a treat to bring my family on board to meet the crew and look around. She really is a gorgeous boat: a three masted top-sail schooner built in 1918 and used originally as a freight carrier. In 1988 she was brought back to the Netherlands and lovingly restored – as I hope you will see from photos I post in this blog as time goes by. She is actually now registered as a monument by the Dutch ministry of Culture!

Plymouth has a long history of launching great adventures. Francis Drake set sail from here to explore the new world and returned in September 1580 with a rich cargo of spices and Spanish treasure and the distinction of being the first Englishman to circumnavigate the globe. Famously, this is where Charles Darwin and Robert Fitzroy set off, 200 years ago, on a grand surveying expedition in the little brig, the Beagle. It’s hard to imagine how bold they were – and so young. Darwin was 22 and Fitzroy only 25 when he took charge of the Beagle. Mind you – he had been in the Royal Naval College from 12 and first went to sea at 14, so he had racked up some useful experience….

The launch party was held at the National Maritime Aquarium, among the sharks, rays, upsidedown jelly-fish and the corals, shells and starfish. Such a great venue to meet fellow sailors and their families and the people from Plymouth and further afield who have supported and contributed to the expedition. Some of the scientists who will travel with us were there, along with Joe the Whale, an astonishing young artist who has designed an iconic image of the voyage: I was completely star-struck: he is only 12 years old!

I’m sitting on the dockside now, with a peppermint tea, watching while the sun breaks through and so excited to be boarding in an hour or so. I’ll be back when I next have wifi …..

PS: Here's a link to the ITV Good Morning Britain feature this morning: Good Morning Britain - Watch Episode - ITVX - the story starts at 1 hour, 6 minutes and 23 seconds into the programme!

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