The week before the holidays, a group of fifty or so from our home ed group set sail for an hour on “The Matthew” a reconstruction of the boat on which John Cabot navigated the Atlantic and found his way to Newfoundland. To do this he had sought sponsorship from the English king, Henry VII, as none was forthcoming from his native Italy. Bristol was, at the time, the second largest port in England. To mark the 500 year anniversary of this event in 1997, the replica was built, and duly sailed to America. I was living in Bristol at the time, and remember the excitement of it.
Today, the boat mainly lives in the docks, and is open to visitors. We have all explored it before, but only when securely tied to its moorings. I think I was more excited about our trip in it than the girls!
As can be seen, the weather was stunning, and as we didn’t actually venture out of the harbour, it was a pretty staid trip! The crew talked us through navigation and general life aboard ship.
The sailors actually slept on the decks, maybe preferable to sleeping in the hold with the rats and bats, both of which Sparkly Eyes took great relish in spotting! They could only have hot food if the weather conditions were calm enough to light a fire on the deck (not possible when windy, due to all the wood and fabric about). Otherwise it was cold rations. We were offered a ship’s biscuit, but I don’t think anyone tasted it! They took hens, to provide eggs, and even a sheep. I asked if it was really slaughtered on board and received an affirmative answer. I didn’t like to question further, but having been involved in the butchering and sausage making from our pigs, I was intrigued. I guess they were not as fastidious about cleanliness and could just slosh water over the deck when done.
John Cabot was hoping to find a way to the Far East, to open up a new trading route for spices and silk. He didn’t find it, but he had the courage and sense of adventure to try. And if he hadn’t he wouldn’t have “gone down in the history books” to quote the Fossil sisters in Ballet Shoes. And, centuries later, we wouldn’t have had the fun of exploring his ship.