Photo by courtesy of the Morecambe Visitor newspaper.
The Hispaniola (1887-1970)
‘Now what a ship was christened so let her stay, I says.’
Long John Silver from ‘Treasure Island’ by Robert Louis Stevenson.
The schooner rode easily at anchor whilst she rested ready to sail, bobbing on the evening tide as it slid into the bay and lapped against her sleek boards. The towering masts of the vessel stretched into the darkening sky, pointing to the stars that were just starting to show and which she would need to set a course. She was waiting patiently for a prize crew to board her and take advantage of that tide to slip out into the channel and catch a favourable wind for the West Indies. It was a scene reminiscent of old Bristol, straight from of the age of pirates and buried treasure.
Or so it should have been. Instead she stayed rigid, held firm by giant hawsers, strapped to the side of the concrete terracing which wrapped itself around the Super Swimming Stadium. She lay trapped like a bird, stripped of any dignity, in a cage too small for her to turn around. She wasn’t waiting to set sail for excitement and adventure. This was brash, noisy and cheap Morecambe and she was alone and abandoned, suffering the wait, in pain and discomfort, through another seemingly endless night. Waiting, until the morning brought the next horde of tourists to pay their shillings to crawl over her fine lines and crafted timbers, to poke and pry into her secret hollows, leaving their litter and abuse and disrespect.
It was mid week in mid June. The pubs were closing and it was time to catch the last bus home. We’d hung on as late as possible. This was the last night. We wanted to make the most of it before our world changed. The stars cast a faint light along the terracing where Hol and I sat, hidden under the shadow cast by the stern of the ship. The breeze drifted in off the bay and stirred the lines and lanyards hanging limp from her cross members, now stripped of the canvas that might have aided her escape. She was going nowhere.
For some time we’d been sat in the silence of our thoughts, broken only by distant snatches of the latest hits drifting from the fairground behind the Winter Gardens whenever the breeze drew breath. The new top ten entry – the Four Tops ‘It’s all in the Game’ – seemed to reflect our mood. On the promenade the pubs and the slot-machine parlours were packed with holidaymakers. We knew all those places. We’d been coming here together since we were kids, but not after tonight. Hol was leaving to take up his new job after finishing university. The others had already gone. Only I had come home to stay.
‘Moby Dick isn’t her real name, you know,’ I said. ‘When she was built, not far from here, she was named the Ryelands. In the film “Treasure Island” she was called the Hispaniola.’
I shuffled forward to bend my legs. The terrace was uncomfortable. I pulled out a packet of cigarettes and flicked one into my mouth. The match lit up the terracing as it flared.
‘I’ll always think of her as the Hispaniola after watching that film,’ I said, exhaling. ‘They shouldn’t keep changing the name. It’s bad luck. I mean, look at her now. She’s holed up here for tourists to pore over, fit for nothing but the breaker’s yard. There’ll never be another one like her.’
Hol let me rant on. He knew that I needed to get it out of my system. This wasn’t about ships or names. Maybe I’d just come home to die, like the schooner. Bound by invisible hawsers. Had I made a mistake? I still had a choice. Change was bad luck whether you were staying or going.
I couldn’t leave it alone. ‘I won’t be coming back to see her again. If I can’t see her wasting away, I’ll stop thinking about her.’
I pulled a last drag out of the cigarette and flicked it upwards and over the stern of the ship towards the water. The glowing tip carved a red parabola through the darkness and disappeared from sight. We walked in silence onto the promenade towards the bus stop, leaving the Hispaniola to her fate.
The headline in the local paper caught my eye and my stomach lurched. “Moby Dick destroyed by fire”. “Last week…the Fire Officer’s opinion…a lighted cigarette end, carelessly discarded…could have been caused at any time…”
The end of the film came to mind. Facing the journey home, clapped in irons, aboard the Hispaniola to stand trial in England, Long John Silver asks Jim Hawkins to look after his parrot.
‘Jim lad …this old bird….she can’t abide a prison. There ain’t much in nature as can.’
‘Better dead than caged.’ I thought. I still had a choice.
©David Lewis Pogson 2003
Now read Part Two ‘The Voyage Home’