Elizabethan eras collide as Golden Hinde prepares to join Queen's Jubilee flotilla
Descending to the cramped gun deck of the Golden Hinde, it is easy to imagine that this is the very ship in which Sir Francis Drake sailed the oceans, plundering and pillaging in the name of his queen.
Indeed, the majority of visitors – particularly those from overseas – may well believe that to be the case. The truth, however, is that the ship tied up at a dock on London's south shore is a mere 40 years old, having been constructed with care and precision by a master boatbuilder in North Devon.
Next year marks the 40th anniversary of her launch, but before that the current owners – Golden Hinde Trust – are hoping to sail her up the Thames as part of the Queen's Jubilee flotilla event on June 3. There's just one snag: it is going to cost an estimated quarter of a million pounds to cover re-rigging, restoration work, a mooring at Tower Bridge, insurance and a floating crane to lift the gates of St Mary Overie Dock.
Trust manager Troy Richards said: "We would love the ship to take part in the pageant because it would be very fitting for the Golden Hinde to be involved in this historic day and take her place out on the Thames. However, in order to make our great ship seaworthy once again, we need to raise £250,000 for rigging, sails and refurbishing the hull and masts."
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More than £17,000 has already been donated by individuals, supporters and firms, and the trust remains hopeful that a large multi-national company will come forward to sponsor the venture – and in return receive an onboard advert beamed around the world.
Archivist Craig Campbell added that the aim is to take the ship along to Tower Bridge, where she would be moored for the duration of the Jubilee celebrations.
"The Golden Hinde has strong connections with the Royal Family going back to Elizabeth I, who knighted Sir Francis Drake on deck," he said. "And the present Duke of Edinburgh attended this ship's keel laying ceremony in the 1970s. The Golden Hinde is a national treasure and she deserves to be in her rightful place, out on the river, during this memorable event."
Three people with more than a working knowledge of the Golden Hinde are Audrey Hinks and her daughters, Amanda and Alison. Audrey is the widow of Alan Hinks, a man revered in boatbuilding circles and the craftsman responsible for turning the dream of a replica into a seagoing reality.
Looking out over the Taw-Torridge estuary and the site of the boatyard that bore the Hinks name, Audrey said: "For my husband's sake more than anything, I would love to see her properly in the water again rather than just in a dock.
"The story of the Golden Hinde is very much a Westcountry story. Her history was in Devon and she was built in a great yard here at Appledore. She is an important part of our nation's maritime heritage and my husband would have been so proud to see his Golden Hinde being part of the Jubilee pageant."
Alan Hinks started work at the family-owned yard in 1943, which was at the time producing lifeboats and air ministry launches for the war effort. The reputation of J Hinks & Son for building high quality, traditionally constructed boats continued to grow, so that by the 1960s the firm was taking orders for yachts, Customs launches, fishery patrol boats and fishing boats of all sizes.
Then, in 1967, Alan was approached by yacht designer Rodney Warrington-Smythe to build a replica of the Nonsuch to mark the 300th anniversary of the formation of the Hudson's Bay Company. Audrey, who was herself a ship's draughtswoman, recalls the event with pride, saying it was the sort of boatbuilding her husband, who died in 2008, had always yearned to do.
The success of Nonsuch led to the Golden Hinde commission a few years later. A project that took 30 men 18 months to complete, she was launched at Appledore in 1973.
Mr Hinks went on to build replicas of a Viking longship and a Roman galley.
Audrey's daughters, Alison Boyle and Amanda Ford, were the fifth generation of Hinks to work for the family firm. Great great grand-daughters of Henry Hinks, who set up the business in 1844, both women are proud of their family's legacy.
Alison, who represents Bideford South and Hartland on Devon County Council, enjoyed a hands-on encounter with Elizabethan sailing during a stint as part of the crew of the Golden Hinde in 1980, when the vessel was the highlight of that year's Southampton Boat Show. Describing the experience as "exhilarating", she added: "Building the Golden Hinde and seeing her sail all over the world was a dream come true for my father.
"Everything about her is authentic and was the result of a great deal of research by a variety of maritime experts and historians.
"Just like the original, she was built for solidity and to withstand the rigours of battle. The men used traditional tools because one of the stipulations was that she would be built using entirely authentic methods."
Alison, who gives talks about the yard, added that her father's ship has so far covered some 140,000 miles at sea – far more than Drake's original.
"Despite our growing sophistication as a nation, we remain at heart a maritime island, still touched by tales of our seafaring past," she added. "Apart from her historical link with her namesake, the Hinks Golden Hinde has circumnavigated the world several times, endured storms and brought a touch of romance to hundreds of thousands of people."
Amanda, meanwhile, has been busy contacting many of those who worked on the replica ahead of the 40th anniversary. Using Facebook and other avenues of research, she has contacted men as far away as Australia in order to build an archive of memories. Some of craftsmen were traditional shipwrights brought out of retirement to lend their skills to the ambitious project.
Amanda, who was only eight at the time of the launch, clearly remembers the excitement of the day.
"There were thousands of people there to witness it," she said. "Cars were parked right out along the Burrows road and there were people everywhere. It was a wonderful event and the launch itself was absolutely breathtaking."
She is keen to hear from anyone with photographs from the time and hopes to stage an archive exhibition in Appledore next year.
Audrey Hinks' voice still cracks with emotion when she speaks of the evening thousands lined the wharves and shore, as well as the headlands on both sides of the bay.
A businesswoman in her own right, having run Gallerie Marin in the port for four decades, she said: "There was huge interest from across Devon, Cornwall and the wider world. The event was front page news all over the world – even in Afghanistan. I'm sure if they manage to get her out of the dock and on to the River Thames for the Jubilee, the Golden Hinde will make front page news all over the world again."