The Seafarers For much of the last two and a half thousand years, the history of western civilisation has been indelibly linked to the sea. From the time of the Persian navy's defeat to the Greeks at Salamis in 480 B.C., to the epic voyages of Vasco de Gama and Magellan, to the terror unleashed by Germany's U-boats in both world wars, the fortunes of Western European nations ebbed and flowed with their ability to open and maintain trade routes. When dad died in 1996, mum donated most of his books to his ship modelling club, but a number remained. What I found was a book called, 'Fighting Sail', part of Time-Life's Seafarer's series. I ended up taking all ten volumes away and reading the set. For instance, 'The Men-Of-War' deals with a period of British history that is often ignored. Tensions between Britain and the Netherlands had been strained for some time, but it was Oliver Cromwell who took the fight to the Dutch, scoring a number of significant victories. So the British formulated a plan to trick the Dutch into declaring war on Britain. Charles II sent two fleets of ships, one to West Africa, where trade was then dominated by the Dutch, the other to New Amsterdam. Indeed, when the expedition's leader, Captain Robert Holmes, returned home to London, he was clamped in irons and thrown in the Tower of London for exceeding his orders (he was released following the Dutch declaration of war). Rather than the Dutch Navy being under the command of a single Admiral, each province had its own Admiral in direct command and a council of war had to be convened between the seven before any naval engagement could be committed to. The Dutch declared war in the winter 1665, but it was to end in humiliating defeat for Britain. As anyone who's played Assassins' Creed 3 will know, the principal force behind the American victory over the British in the War of Independence was the French Navy. The Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776, war went on with the British for eight years between 1775 and 1783, yet the first American naval warship (the imaginatively titled, 'United States') was not launched until 1797. As is usual with wartime alliances, victory quickly led to a souring of relations between America and its allies and the United States soon found itself in a conflagration with the French. Yet, the main reason for America forming a navy at all was to protect its commercial vessels from being attacked by Barbary corsairs off the coast of North Africa. The United States ended up paying $20,000 a year in protection money to the Fey of Algiers to allow safe passage to its ships. The Pasha of Tripoli in Libya desired the same kind of deal with the Americans and in 1801 he declared war on the United States. It would be four long years before the war finally ended, and even then the United States would have to pay $60,000 in ransom to release over three hundred captured American sailors, but it was as much a face saving exercise for the Pasha. Yet by 1812, when the next war broke out between the United States and Great Britain, the American Navy was sufficiently feared for the Admiralty to order no Royal Naval fleet to engage the United States Navy without a numerical advantage of 2:1 or greater. For example, I had always just presumed that it was the British that had scuttled the German fleet in Scapa Flow, following the end of the First World War. Yet from reading 'The Dreadnaughts', we discover that it was a coordinated effort by the German officers and ratings who were assisting in the handover. The Spanish had first starting shipping slaves to the Americas to work their silver mine in Peru, most of the indigenous population having died of disease or been worked to death. African slaves were hardier workers, with greater immunity to disease than either the indigenous population or the Europeans, and the transatlantic slave trade was soon shipping in slaves by their hundreds of thousands (perhaps as many as a million between the 16th and 17th centuries). The British, desiring a slice of the pie (as well as general mischief making), set out to undercut the Spanish Government, by bringing in contraband goods that they could sell to the traders for bargain prices and break up Span's monopoly. When they got into a battle with the Spanish Navy, Drake left Hawkins to it and fled back across the Atlantic. Time-Life are an American company, and while the volume on the Spanish Main will happily tell the reader that the Spanish wiped out 80% of the indigenous population between modern day Guadeloupe and New Mexico, where we touch upon the cornerstones of American history, the waters are murkier. The closest he ever got was the North East coast of South America (present day French Guyana), and was quickly chased off by the natives. The Vikings tried to colonise North America in the 11th century, but the continent was at that time populated by maybe one hundred million people (maybe a hundred and twenty million, when taking the Caribbean into account) and they quickly gave up. Modern historians point out that just a handful of years before the pilgrims arrived a plague swept through the Americas, wiping out 96% of the population, but even then the reasons for this plague are glossed over. There are four books on submarines on my to-read shelf, I go sailing, and I've recently been watching Terry Jones's series on the Crusades, which were broadcast the year before he died and which he took great delight in telling me all about, whilst I stifled a yawn and tried to look interested.