Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Sea Venture

Sea Venture, July 28, 1609.

The Sea Venture, carrying colonists en route to Virginia, was wrecked on a reef off Bermuda, which led to the accidental colonization of Bermuda. (Snow, Mysteries and Adventures Along the Atlantic Coast, pp. 76.) By the wreck, William Shakespeare was inspired to write The Tempest.

The wreck itself was totally un-mysterious:

On June 2, 1609, the Sea Venture set sail from Plymouth as the flagship of a seven-ship fleet (towing two additional pinnaces) destined for Jamestown, Virginia, as part of the Third Supply, carrying 500 to 600 people. On July 24, the fleet ran into a strong storm, likely a hurricane, and the ships were separated. The Sea Venture fought the storm for three days. Comparably-sized ships had survived such weather, but the Sea Venture had a critical flaw in her newness: her timbers had not set. The caulking was forced from between them, and the ship began to leak rapidly. All hands were applied to bailing, but water continued to rise in the hold. The ship's guns were reportedly jettisoned (though two were salvaged from the wreck in 1612) to raise her buoyancy, but this only delayed the inevitable. The Admiral of the Company, Sir George Somers himself, was at the helm through the storm. When he spied land on the morning of July 25, the water in the hold had risen to nine feet, and crew and passengers had been driven past the point of exhaustion. Somers deliberately drove the ship onto the reefs of what proved to be Bermuda in order to prevent its foundering. This allowed all 150 people aboard, and one dog, to be landed safely ashore.

But wait, we're in the realm of cheap horror writers. So before the wreck, Somers saw a mysterious light dancing in the rigging, "like no phenomenon of heaven or earth he'd ever seen before." (Thomas Jeffrey, Bermuda Triangle, p. 24.) William Strachey, secretary-elect of the Virginia colony, mentioned it in his journal, and Shakespeare fashioned the "apparition" into the spirit Ariel.

Dare I say, St. Elmo's fire? Yep, my man Billy agrees, and he was there:

Only upon the Thursday night, Sir George Somers, being upon the watch, had an apparition of a little round light, like a faint star, trembling and streaming along with a sparkling blaze, half the height upon the main mast and shooting sometimes from shroud to shroud, 'tempting to settle, as it were, upon any of the four shrouds. And for three or four hours together, or rather more, half the night it kept with us, running sometimes along the main yard to very end and then returning; at which Sir George Somers called divers about him and showed them the same, who observed it with much wonder and carefulness. But upon a sudden, toward the morning watch they lost the sight of it and knew not what way it made.

The superstitious seamen make many constructions of this sea fire, which nevertheless is usual in storms, the same (it may be) which the Grecians were wont in the Mediterranean to call Castor and Pollux, of which if one only appeared without the other they took it for an evil sign of great tempest. The Italians and such who lie open to the Adriatic and Tyrrhenian Sea call it (a sacred body) corpo sancto; the Spaniards call it St. Elmo and have an authentic and miraculous legend for it.

Thanks, Billy. Ragnar 1, Adi-Kent 0.

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