Sunday, 25 November 2012

Age of Sail: the Turk family, the Grand Turk, HMS Indefatigable, Papillon, Etoile du Roy...

This is an interesting one. When I saw the Etoile du Roy over the summer, I was instantly in love with her – but when I researched her a little bit, it turns out I have seen her before many times over the years in her different guises.

Originally built by the Turk family, an English ship and boat building family who can trace their Thames water vessel lineage back to the 12th Century; the Grand Turk was designed in 1997 and built in the Turkish seaport of Marmaris; presumably because labour and materials were cheaper there than in the UK.

It was a major achievement – the first frigate of its kind built to almost original specifications in 150 years. Constructed from the rot-resistant African teak and mahogany, she stands proud as a fully rigged ship of 152 foot.

The Grand Turk, built in Turkey, and here being boarded by a Turk... who is also grand.
She made numerous appearances on the ITV series Hornblower as the HMS Indefatigable, and later the French Papillon. I watched this series in its entirety as a youngster, soaking up the bloody swashbuckling action. The books by C.S. Forester are practically the invention of Historical Fiction as we know it today, and the main inspiration for Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe series. Despite being nigh on a century old, Forrester's books are still a cracking good read and have aged very little.

Post-Hornblower, the Grand Turk mainly resided in Whitby – one of my favourite weekend visits from early childhood until this day. It’s here my family would go for a paddle in the sea, hunt for fossils, jet and fool’s gold, stuff our faces with fish and chips followed by fudge and rock. I can see where she stood now, upon the river Esk, moored on the North side of town, just before the swing bridge. Dozens of times I saw her there, and was completely oblivious of her stardom from Hornblower.

Night time in Whitby - Grand Turk's home for a decade.
Thinking back, it was probably scenes such as these: a ship from the Age of Sail, nestled between the North York Moors and the grim North Sea, that were some of the earliest inspirations for my current writing. My anti-hero is from Whitby, and that wonderful town features frequently in my stories.

What a coincidence then that she has now been bought by a French antique vessel enthusiast, and she lives in Saint Malo, which for me is a Breton Whitby, and another family favourite holiday spot.

In 2005, before she changed colours, the Grand Turk became a temporary stand in for Nelson’s Victory at the International Fleet Review.

As of 2010 though, she is very much French. Gone is the Grand Turk’s turban-clad figurehead, to be replaced with a slightly cheesy one-eyed pirate wench. Her deck contains a permanent stall selling cheap pirate flags and flick-knives with her new name: the Etoile du Roy (Or the Royal Star – a curious name for a Napoleonic replica serving the Republic!). I bought one of said knives – it’s a bugger to open!

The Grand Turk

The Etoile du Roy
The Etoile du Roy is available, rather cheaply in my opinion, for sailing holidays – and corporate functions. When it’s docked in Saint Malo, she’s open to look around. French or British – she’s a beautiful thing. The video on the Etoile's website shows parts of Saint Malo, and her final voyage from Whitby to France as the Grand Turk, still with the original figurehead and manned by her old English crew.

Below are some of the other antique vessels owned and maintained by the Etoile Marina in Saint Malo, Brittany: