National Geographic : 1957 Nov
How We Sailed the New Mayflower to America Why Did Mayflower II Take the Long Southern Route? What Were the Risks She Ran? Her Skipper Reveals the Answers BY CAPTAIN ALAN VILLIERS 627 It was only natural that the master of Mayflower II should write his firsthand account of her Atlantic crossing exclusively for the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE. Beginning in 1931, when youthful sailorman Villiers told of rounding Cape Horn in a square-rigger, National Geographic Society members have read in their Magazine his salty narratives of windjammer voyages from his native Australia to England (1933), around the world (1937), and across the Atlantic (1937 and 1955). But seasoned mariner Villiers calls this year's epic voyage in the pitching replica of a 17th-century galleon his greatest adventure.-The Editor. T HE drum beat and the crowds ap plauded as I marched up the landing Stage by famed Plymouth Rock behind the costumed drummer, and the sound of cheering thundered in my ears. The plaudits and the speechmaking of a wonderful wel come awaited me. But I looked back at the strange little ship called Mayflower, now moored safely at a landlocked buoy behind me. The greatest and most interesting sailing adventure of my life was over. There she was, a replica-so far as that is possible-of the once obscure and common place ship of that name which had brought the glorious Pilgrim Fathers to that same rock, without cheers and without welcome. Aye, there she was, 337 years later, and the hot sun shone proudly on her; but the thought that was uppermost in my mind then was not of any pride in the achievement, such as it was. Rather was it wonder that my splendid crew had managed to bring in that extraordi nary ship at all. Steamers Come Up for Closer Look She rode high out of the water, bulky aft, lower forward, squat and apparently ungainly in her low Elizabethan rig. The masts were supported by an array of cordage rigging that, to my Cape Horning eyes at least, looked spindly and fragile in the extreme, her built up aftercastle towering like some gaily painted fortress of the Middle Ages. Surely she was the most extraordinary, the oddest little vessel that had crossed the waters of the North At lantic this 20th century (page 628). No wonder the astonished steamships of all nations had come hurrying from the horizon for a closer look, whenever they had sighted us! From 16th-century spritsail on the high and unsupported bowsprit to the historically correct lateen mizzen aft, from chunky cut water to heavy stern, from well-calked gun ports to clumsy and enormous tops-what a ship she was! I marveled that we had sailed her there. Yet it had not been so difficult, after all. I sailed the southern way-5,500 nautical miles to make about 3,500-from Plymouth, Eng land, to Provincetown, Massachusetts, our first port of call (map, page 632). She had handled well; I had a first-rate crew; and the Lord was kind. The spring had been stormy and one of the most ice littered the wild Atlantic had ever known; yet we had come safely, without undue trial. For that I thanked God and the stanchness of British oak well put together. Launching Marred by Listing Ship I sailed from Brixham, the little Devon fish ing port where the ship was built, on the evening of April 17, 1957.* The ship had all but capsized when she had been floated out of her finishing dock a fortnight earlier. Her unfinished hull was launched on September 22, 1956, and she was finished in a dry dock. When the day came to float her out of this, the tide did not rise to within a foot of the predicted level, and she could not float freely inside the opened dock. When the shores were removed, she fell heavily to starboard, and the people assembled on the dockside ran for their lives. The small tug just scraped her across the sill; she flopped over and hung there, obviously in a state of neutral equilibrium. "If she goes right over, just climb up the rigging," I said quietly to my sons Kit and Peter, who were standing with me on the poop. But she did not go over. What had happened was that, partly be cause of the poor tide, she was insufficiently * See "We're Coming Over on the Mayflower," by Alan Villiers, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, May, 1957.