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In Search of Sir Francis Drake
by Kathryn Gillett, Elizabethan England on Britannia
The Golden Hinde
On the Thames at Southwark, Surrey
The next morning, I caught the bus to the nearest Underground station and figured out from the colored-lines on a map which subway line I was to get on. I was feeling quite the expert London Underground traveler now, zipping around by some kind of color-coded connect-the-dots travel. I got off at London Bridge…and was immediately, hopelessly lost. I walked around a while, and eventually stopped in a small grocery store to ask directions, but the store keeper didn't speak English. After a few minutes of me gesticulating and over-enunciating, his eyes sparkled with recognition. "Ah! De Sheep! Yays, go 'cross stree', down small stree', rye and stray. It's dere. Rye dere!" My heart filled with compassion for him. He seemed so delighted with himself for figuring out what I wanted. I didn't have the heart to tell him I had no idea what he had just said.
I almost got hit by a bus trying to cross the street, walked through a cemetery, found - and carefully picked my way along - a tiny street that was littered with the residue of heavy construction on either side.
Then suddenly, I realized what the shopkeeper had been trying to tell me: I turned a corner, and it was there. Right there: the replica of the Golden Hinde. To my eye, it was nothing less than gorgeous. Since most of my book will take place aboard her, I had read a lot about the original in my recent research. So I was thrilled to be near such a beautiful, lovingly replicated incarnation of Drake's famous galleon. Painted black, red and yellow, (the Elizabethans were nothing if not flashy), it even had a golden hinde (a kind of deer) gently looking out over its prow. (The original was first named the Pelican, but Drake re-christened her the Golden Hinde in mid-journey. It was most likely a way for Drake to affirm his association with one of the voyage's key financial backers, whose family coat-of-arms featured a golden hinde. In doing this, he might have been reassuring the crew of the importance of their mission: Although their voyage was fraught with danger, they could take heart in this daily reminder that their endeavor had support from the highest levels of government.)
It was a special delight to go on board. The guide was very friendly and I was given carte blanche to meander about the ship at my leisure. I went to Drake's cabin - the only private cabin on the ship - and was surprised at how small it was. I saw the officer's mess-cum-sleeping-quarters as well as the storage areas-cum-mariners'-sleeping-areas. Only Drake slept in a bed - a small, rock-hard bunk - while everyone else cleared spots for themselves on the decks.
It was magic for me to be aboard the ship. It somehow brought me closer to Drake and his crew, seeing how small it actually was (only about 37 meters, or 120 feet), and how crowded it must have been - some estimates are as high as 60 men aboard. As I walked around its decks, I considered the awesome achievement of navigating around the world in this little thing. Although today's replica has circumnavigated the world - no small feat - in Drakes' day, mariners did not have the aid of instruments to measure longitude. That meant Drake's seamanship was constantly tested, because - among all the other hazards of the sea - even the best mariners in those days could never be sure where in the world they were unless they were near land.
Yes, it was the perfect 'transporting' moment I had hoped for. I could imagine Drake in his cabin pouring over his charts, gently swaying with the ship as its sails, filled with wind, drove the ship ever forward. Its busy crew, noisy with work, would be accustomed to the sounds of the creaking timbers, and flapping sails as the ship cut through the deep blue of the sea. I could imagine the ship's carpenter at work, the musicians playing during dinner in the officer's mess, and the gentlemen adventurers sitting around in the evening, wondering what had possessed them to go on this god-forsaken journey.
Next Stop: The Globe Theatre, Southwark
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