Back in 2012 during the London Olympics, I stood in a crowd at Newton’s Cove, Weymouth, watching the sailing events. Ben Ainslie won his gold medal for GB, and we all jumped up and down and cheered like mad. It was a special moment. Five years later I stood with my hands on the gunwale of the boat he sailed that day. That was a special moment, too.
This was one of the wonderful exhibits at the National Maritime Museum (Cornwall) at Falmouth, which I visited a few weeks ago. It’s a striking building, perched right on the water’s edge, and includes a tower with a panoramic view from the top and a glass-walled room at the base under the waterline, so visitors can see estuarine fish and sea creatures swimming right in front of their noses.
I loved that, but it was the huge display of boats that really caught my attention. They don’t just exhibit them, either – they build them, too. A recently-completed reconstruction of the ship’s boat used by Captain Bligh following the Bounty mutiny was the basis of one exhibit, and loud hammering from the rear of the building announced the next project – a reconstruction of one of the lifeboats of the Titanic.
The main hall was full of boats from floor to ceiling, many of them suspended by wires and flying magically so the whole beautiful space was used. Small boats of every kind from all over the world were on show, designed to be propelled by steam, diesel, wind or sheer arm-power, and built for speed, fishing or fun. This cosmopolitan display is matched by side galleries celebrating Cornwall’s (and Falmouth’s) own extensive maritime history from packet-boats to pilchard fishing.
I enjoyed it all, but my particular favourite was a huge glass case containing exquisite models of boats through the ages, also apparently flying through the air. This was so beautifully presented and lit that the little boats looked like jewels in a casket. Stunning.
There’s plenty for children, too, including boats to climb into and radio-controlled sailing. If you’re visiting Cornwall do go and see this fabulous museum (full details here). I insist!
And for more boats…Whales and Strange Stars
A stunning mystery in the tradition of Jamaica Inn. When a sea captain passes through the forgotten port of Wych Ferry and whiles away an hour at the Tradewinds Inn relating his traveller’s tales to young Rosamund Euden, he has no idea of the dramatic events he has set in action. Adventure, dark magic and betrayal in the marshlands of 18th century Kent.
To be published by Crooked Cat Books, 16 January, 2018