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Tall ships and Treasure Island

 Joining a tall ship for a day, Jo Mattock steps into the world of Treasure Island

 The Stavros S Niarchos looks like it’s sailed straight out of a pirate story. It’s a replica of thousands of ships from the 18th and 19th Centuries – its tall masts and miles of rigging mark it out from the cargo ships and pleasure boats moored around it in Southampton dock.

I joined Stavros’s crew for a day. Partly, I was here to get a taste of what life was like on board an 18th-century ship for boys like Jim Hawkins from Treasure Island. A new film of the classic Robert Louis Stevenson novel made by Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment and starring Eddie Izzard as the devious Long John Silver is being released on DVD and Blu-ray, and to mark the occasion journalists had been invited onto Stavros.

But I was also here to find out about modern-day Jim Hawkins – the young people who take part in voyages onboard Stavros with the Tall Ships Youth Trust (tallships.org). The charity gives youngsters aged 12-25 years old the opportunity to sail on the ship, learning new skills useful both on board and in life generally – things such as leadership, team work and responsibility. More than 100,000 youngsters have taken part since the charity launched in 1956, and 70 per cent of those have been from disadvantaged backgrounds or disabled.

Jo gets to grips with the ropes

Treasure Island is a coming-of-age story, with Jim growing up as he sails to the Caribbean on a hunt for pirate gold. Today’s teenagers also experience adventure and challenge. ‘We help them to succeed and give them a challenge, but encourage them to do it,’ says second officer Ben Wheatley. ‘But what they’re doing hasn’t changed. The ropes and the skills are all the same – a sailor from the 18th century could set foot on the ship and set sail. But the environment and the way we deal with young people are very different.’

The ship itself is a brig – which means it has two masts and square sails. Ships of this construction have been used since the 12th century, and although Stavros herself was built in 2000, she perfectly replicates ships from the 18th century – the kind Jim would have sailed on. Brigs were used as cargo ships, passenger ships and war ships. They transported cargos around Europe and to America – and they were occasionally stolen by pirates. 

I had a go at climbing the rigging myself – I was nervous at first, especially as my hands were cold and the ladder was wet, but it was exhilarating. Even better was climbing out on the bowsprit – the mast that sticks out from the very front of the ship. From here, you can look back, and see the ship under sail, as well as look down into the sea below you. From this vantage point, you understand the excitement for Jim Hawkins setting off on his Caribbean pirate adventure, and the youngsters today, sailing off on their own journey.

Jo climbs the rigging
 

Treasure Island is available on Blu-ray and DVD from June 11th, courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment

Eddie Izzard as Long John Silver

 

 

 

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