Captain Pugwash is a fictional pirate in a series of British children’s comic strips and books created by John Ryan which were subsequently adapted into a TV series using cardboard cut-outs filmed in live-action! The first series was broadcast live on the BBC in 1957. A later colour series was shown in 1974-75 and a traditional animated series, The Adventures of Captain Pugwash, first aired in 1998. Horatio Pugwash sails the high seas in a ship called the Black Pig, ably assisted by cabin boy Tom, pirates Willy and Barnabas, and Master Mate – not a typo! John Ryan successfully won retractions and settlements from the Sunday Correspondent and the Guardian after both newspapers claimed that the show’s characters had rude names and that the BBC had taken it off air as a result. His mortal enemy is Cut-Throat Jake, captain of the Flying Dutchman.
Sir Francis Drake (c.1540 – 28 Jan 1596) was the eldest of twelve sons, an English sea captain, privateer, slave trader, naval officer and explorer, one time Mayor of Plymouth and a Member of Parliament. He carried out the second circumnavigation of the world in a single expedition from 1577 to 1580 and became the first leader of such an expedition to survive the entire trip. With his voyage into the Pacific he claimed what is now California for the English and inaugurated an era of conflict with the Spanish who, at one time, offered 20,000 ducats (about £6 million) for his capture or death. He was knighted by Queen Elizabeth I on board his ship, the Golden Hind, on his return. Elizabeth ordered the details of his circumnavigation to be regarded as State Secrets. Drake was second-in-command of the English Fleet in the battle against the Spanish Armada in 1588. He died of dysentery in January 1596 after unsuccessfully attacking San Juan, Puerto Rico. He was buried at sea off Portobelo, Panama and his body has never been recovered. His statue stands on Plymouth Hoe overlooking Drake’s Island.
Sir Robin Knox-Johnston (born 17 March 1939). Robin Knox-Johnston was born in Putney in London and between 1957 and 1965 he served in the Merchant Navy and the Royal Naval Reserve. On 14 June 1968 he left Falmouth in his 32 foot yacht Suhaili as part of the Sunday Times Golden Globe Race. Despite losing his steering gear off Australia, he rounded Cape Horn on 17 January 1969, 20 days before his closest competitor, who was to subsequently abandon the race. The other seven competitors dropped out at various stages, leaving Knox-Johnston to win the race and become officially the first person to circumnavigate the globe non-stop and single handed on 22 April 1969, the day he returned to Falmouth. Knox-Johnston donated his £5,000 prize money to the family of Donald Crowhurst who disappeared at sea after attempting to fake his participation in the race and whose story is told in the 2018 movie The Mercy with Colin Firth playing Crowhurst. In 2007, Knox-Johnston became, at 67, the oldest yachtsman to complete a round the world solo voyage. In 1996 he established the first Clipper Round The World Yacht Race and has since worked with the Clipper Ventures company as Chairman.
Captain Birdseye also know in other European countries as Captain Iglo, is the advertising mascot for the Birds Eye frozen food brand founded by Clarence Birdseye (1886-1956) an American inventor, entrepreneur and naturalist. Captain Birdseye appeared in numerous television and billboard commercials, normally for Fish Fingers, and is generally depicted as a clean living, older sailor with a white beard, dressed in merchant naval uniform and with a seafaring accent! The actor most associated with Captain Birdseye was John Hewer (1922-2008) a Lowestoft man who played the character from 1967 to 1998. His tenure was interrupted in 1971 when the Captain was “killed off” by Birds Eye with an “obituary” published in The Times which read: “Birdseye, Captain. On June 7th 1971, after long exposure, his life just slipped through his fingers. Celebrity and gourmet. In recognition of his selfless devotion to the nutritional needs of the nation’s children.” Birds Eye resurrected the character 3 years later. In 1993 Captain Birdseye was named in a poll as the most recognizable captain on the planet after Captain Cook (no beard)!
Vasco da Gama (c.1460s – 24 Dec 1524) was a Portuguese explorer and the first European to reach India by sea. His initial voyage to India (1497-1499) was the first to link Europe and Asia by an ocean route connecting the Atlantic and the Indian Oceans (a sort of Clipper Leg 3!) and therefore the West and the Orient. On 8 July 1497 da Gama led a fleet of four ships with a crew of 170 men from Lisbon. They landed at Kappadu in the present day Indian state of Kerala and the first seaborne western trade to India is recorded as four cloaks of scarlet cloth, six hats, four branches of corals, twelve almasares (a veil with fringes used to decorate altars), a box with seven brass vessels, a chest of sugar, two barrels of oil and a cask of honey. The fleet left India on 29 August 1498 and, ignoring local advice about the impending monsoon wind patterns, had a harrowing return journey. Vasco da Gama’s ships had crossed the Indian Ocean in only 23 days on the outward journey. Now with the monsoon winds against them the return crossing took 132 days. Two ships and 55 men were to return to Portugal bringing with them a cargo that was worth sixty times the cost of the expedition. He went on to lead a second expedition (the Fourth Indian Armada) in 1502 with a fleet of 15 ships joined in the Indian Ocean by another five ships led by his cousin. This 4th Armada was something of a da Gama family affair with ships commanded by two of his maternal uncles, and two of his brothers-in-law. da Gama returned to India for the final time in 1524 having been granted by King John III the privileged title of “Viceroy” On arrival he immediately invoked his high viceregent powers to impose a new order in Portuguese India replacing all the old officials with his own appointments. But da Gama contracted malaria not long after arriving and died in Cochin on Christmas Eve 1524. His remains were returned to Portugal in 1539 and in 1880 were moved to a new carved tomb in the nave of the Monastery of the Hieronymites in Belem, the southwestern-most civil parish of the municipality of Lisbon, only a few metres away from the tombs of kings Manuel I and John III, whom da Gama had served.
Captain Edward John Smith (27 Jan 1850 – 15 Apr 1912) was born in Hanley, Stoke-on-Trent and first went to sea as an apprentice at the age of 13 with Gibson & Co in Liverpool. He joined the White Star line in 1880 and gained his first command in 1887. He went on to command the Republic, Coptic, Majestic, Baltic, Adriatic and Olympic. Smith served with distinction in the Boer War by commanding troopships to the Cape. After he became commodore of the White Star fleet in 1904 it became routine for Smith to command the Line’s newest ships on their maiden voyages. It was therefore no surprise that Smith was in command of the RMS Titanic, the largest passenger ship in service at the time, on her maiden voyage in April 1912. On April 10 1912 Captain Smith, wearing a bowler hat and a long overcoat took a taxi from his home and came onboard Titanic at 7.00am. The ship sailed at 12.00am and as she did, wash from her propellers caused the laid-up New York to break from her moorings and swing towards the Titanic. Quick action from Smith helped to avert a premature end to the departure from Southampton. On the night of April 14 Smith visited the bridge after dinner and before turning in, telling Second Officer Lightoller to alert him immediately if he was at all concerned. Visibility was good, the sea was flat calm, the temperature was dropping (near freezing) and ice had been reported. Six iceberg warning were received by the Titanic between 9.00am and 11.39pm on April 14 but only the first two were seen by Smith. Titanic was proceeding at 22 knots (her top speed was 24 knots). Smith was awakened by the collision with the iceberg at about 11.40pm and rushed to the bridge. Shortly thereafter he completed an inspection of the ship with her designer, Mr Thomas Andrews, and ordered the lifeboats swung out. Surprisingly little is know of Smith’s actions in the last two hours of Titanic’s life. His legendary skills of leadership seem to have left him as the magnitude of the impending disaster took hold. Titanic sank 2 hours and 20 minutes after the iceberg collision. Over 1500 people were lost; 49% of the children onboard; 26% of the female passengers; 82% of the male passengers and 78% of the crew. Captain Smith was last seen in the bridge area. He appears to have made no effort to save himself. His body, if recovered, was never identified. In 1907, SS Kronprinz Wilhelm, a German liner had hit an iceberg and suffered a crushed bow but was still able to complete her voyage. That same year, Edward John Smith declared in an interview that he could not “imagine any condition which would cause a ship to founder. Modern shipping has gone beyond that.”
Amerigo Vespucci (9 Mar 1454 – 22 Feb 1512) was an Italian explorer, financier, navigator and cartographer born in the Republic of Florence in 1454. Vespucci first demonstrated in about 1502 that Brazil and the West Indies did not represent Asia’s eastern outskirts as initially conjectured by Christopher Columbus (1451-1506 no beard!), but instead constituted an entirely separate landmass hitherto unknown to people of the Old World. Colloquially referred to as the New World, this second super continent came to be known as America, deriving its name from Americus, the Latin version of Vespucci’s first name. At the invitation of King Manuel I of Portugal, Vespucci participated as an observer in several voyages that explored the east coast of South America between 1499 and 1502. On the first of these voyages he was onboard the ship that discovered that South America extended further south than had been previously thought. In 1508 the position of Chief of Navigation of Spain (Piloto Mayor de Indias) was created for Vespucci with the responsibility of planning navigation for voyages to the Indies. Much of Vespucci’s claim to fame is based on letters thought to have been written in the early 1500s reporting his travels, exploits and discoveries. There is much historical expert debate about their authenticity. The letters caused controversy after his death, especially among the supporters of Columbus who believed Columbus’ priority for the discovery of America was being undermined and this seriously damaged Vespucci’s reputation. Vespucci’s real historical importance may well rest in his letters, whether he wrote them or not, rather than the discoveries he claimed, for through the letters the European public learned about the continent of the Americas for the first time. Amerigo Vespucci died on 22 Feb 1512 at his home in Seville, Spain.
Captain Edward Teach (Blackbeard) (c1680 – 22 Nov 1718) Captain Edward Teach, better known as Blackbeard was an English pirate who operated around the West Indies and the eastern coast of Britain’s North American colonies. Little is known of his early life but he may have been a sailor on privateer ships during Queen Anne’s War (1702-1713) before settling on the Bahamian island of New Providence and joining the crew of Captain Benjamin Hornigold, and between them they engaged in numerous acts of piracy. Hornigold retired in 1717. Teach captured a French merchant vessel, renamed her Queen Anne’s Revenge, and equipped her with 40 guns. He became a renowned pirate. His nickname derived from his thick black beard and fearsome appearance; he was reported to have tied lit fuses (slow matches) under his hat and in his beard to frighten his enemies. He formed an alliance of pirates and blockaded the port of Charles Town, South Carolina, ransoming the port’s inhabitants. He eventually settled in Bath, North Carolina and accepted a Royal pardon but he was soon back at sea where he attracted the attention of Alexander Spotswood, the Governor of Virginia. Spotswood arranged for a party of soldiers and sailors under the command of Lieutenant Maynard of HMS Pearl, to capture Blackbeard and, in a ferocious battle on the inner side of Ocracoke Island, North Carolina on 22 Nov 1718, Teach and several of his crew were killed. Teach’s corpse was thrown into the inlet and his head was suspended from the bowsprit of Maynard’s sloop so that the reward for Blackbeard’s death could be collected. Various superstitious tales exist about Blackbeard’s ghost. Unexplained lights at sea are referred to as “Teach’s light” and some claim that Teach now roams the afterlife searching for his head, for fear that his friends, and the Devil will not recognise him. Edward Teach was a shrewd and calculating leader who actually spurned the use of force, relying instead on his fearsome image to elicit the response he desired from those from whom he robbed. Contrary to the modern-day picture of the traditional pirate, he commanded his vessels with the consent of his crews.
Leif Erikson (c.970 – c.1020) was a Norse explorer from Iceland. He was the first known European to have discovered continental North America (excluding Greenland) before Christopher Columbus. According to the Sagas of The Icelanders he established a Norse settlement at Vinland, tentatively identified with the Norse L’Anse aux Meadows on the northern tip of Newfoundland in modern-day Canada. Later archaeological evidence suggests that Vinland may have been in the areas around the Gulf of St Lawrence and that the L’Anse aux Meadows site was a ship repair station. Leif was the son of Erik the Red, the founder of the first Norse settlement in Greenland in 986AD. Leif’s successful expedition to Vinland, sometime after 999AD, encouraged other Norsemen to also make the journey. The first apparent contact between Norsemen and indigenous people was made by his brother Thorvald. In the end there were no permanent Norse settlements in Vinland although sporadic voyages for forages, timber and trade possibly lasted for centuries. Leif was described as a wise, considerate and strong man of striking appearance. After his first trip to Vinland he returned to Greenland. He is last mentioned alive in 1019 and it is believed he died in Greenland the following year. Stories of Leif’s journey to North America had a profound effect on the identity and self-perception of later Nordic-Americans. The first statue of Leif was erected in Boston in 1887. A statue was erected in Chicago in 1901 and further statues were erected at the Minnesota State Capitol in St Paul in 1949, near Lake Superior in Duluth in 1956 and in downtown Seattle.
Long John Silver is a fictional sailor and main antagonist in the novel Treasure Island (1883) by Robert Louis Stevenson (1850 – 1894). The most colourful and complex character in the book, Silver claimed to have served in the Royal Navy and had a pet parrot called Captain Flint, named after the notorious pirate of the same name under whom Silver had sailed as Quartermaster. He claimed he was the only man Flint (the pirate not the parrot) ever feared. Silver`s left leg is cut off just below the hip and he wields a crutch under his left arm with considerable dexterity. Like many of Stevenson`s characters there is more than a touch of duality about him; ostensibly Silver is a hardworking and likeable seaman, and it is only as the plot unfolds that his villainous nature is gradually revealed. Robert Newton (1905 – 1956) was the definitive feverish-eyed Long John Silver in the 1950 film adaptation of Treasure Island and the film became the standard for screen portrayals of historical pirates. Born in Dorset in the West Country of England and growing up in Cornwall near Land’s End, Newton’s exaggeration of his West Country accent is credited with popularising the stereotypical pirate voice. Newton has become the patron saint of the International Talk Like A Pirate Day (19 Sep).
Odysseus (also known by the Latin variant Ulysses) is a legendary Greek king of Ithaca and the hero of Homer`s epic poem the Odyssey. Son of Laertes, husband of Penelope and father of Telemachus, Odysseus is renowned for his intellectual brilliance, guile, and versatility, and is this known by the epithet Odysseus the Cunning Greek. He is most famous for his nostros or homecoming which took him an eventful 10 years after the decade long Trojan War. In one particular story from the Odyssey, Odysseus and his sailors are warned by the goddess Circe of The Sirens, monsters who pretend to be beautiful women whose amazingly beautiful voices lure passing sailors to their death. Circe warns Odysseus that the Sirens sit beside the ocean, combing their long golden hair and singing to passing sailors. But anyone who hears their song is bewitched by its sweetness, and they are drawn to that island like an iron to a magnet. And their ship smashes upon the rocks as sharp as spears. And these sailors join the many victims of the Sirens in a meadow filled with skeletons. Taking a large block of beeswax, a gift from Circe, Odysseus breaks it into small pieces and tells his men to soften it and put it in their ears so that they will not here the Sirens call. He himself wants to hear the call and survive so he orders his men to lash him to the mast. and leave him tied tightly no matter how much he may beg for release. Some post-Homeric authors state that the Sirens were fated to die if someone heard their singing and escaped them, and that after Odysseus passed by they flung themselves into the water and perished.
Robinson Crusoe is a novel by Daniel Defoe (1660 – 1731) first published in April 1719 and thought to be based on the life of Alexander Selkirk (1676 – 1721) a Scottish privateer and Royal Navy officer who spent four years and four months as a castaway (1704-1709) after being marooned by his captain on an uninhabited island in the South Pacific ocean – the island of Mas a Tierra which was renamed Robinson Crusoe Island in 1966. Selkirk survived the ordeal but succumbed to a tropical illness a dozen years later while serving in HMS Weymouth off West Africa. In the book, Crusoe, whose birth name is Robinson Kreutznaer, spends 28 years on a remote tropical dessert island near Trinidad, encountering cannibals, mutineers, and captives before ultimately being rescued. In 1964 a French film production crew made a 13-part serial The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe starring Robert Hoffmann. It was Austrian actor Hoffmann’s first professional acting role after leaving acting school in Paris in 1964. The black and white series was dubbed into English and German and the BBC broadcast it on numerous occasions, normally during school summer holidays, between 1965 and 1977. For at least three generations of English children this was the definitive version of Defoe`s classic novel and the somewhat haunting musical soundtrack became the signature tune of the school holidays. The serial was filmed on Gran Canaria, the third largest of the Canary Islands, with the scenes of Crusoe remembering his early life in York and Hull shot in Normandy. Filming took 4 months.
oh and to make up the Bakers Dozen of famous and infamous bearded sailors – this one – a ONCE (adjective: former; having been at one time. noun: a single occasion; one time only.) BEARDED SAILOR