Bay Lights Blog

Five Famed Historical Maritime Vessels

by Rich Goldman

MayflowerThe freedom of wide open waters is an exciting realm beckoning travelers, adventurers and sightseers alike. Majestic oceans and spiraling waterways present a certain kind of autonomy that can be found nowhere else. Whether traversing familiar routes or exploring unknown destinations, the call of the high seas can be hard to resist. Since the beginnings of maritime explorations to early trade routes, colonies, and wars, many maritime vessels have become the stuff of legend.

Related Blog: The Stuff of Legends: Ghost Ships

The Mayflower delivered a group of over one hundred individuals who sought religious autonomy in the "New World". From the shores of Plymouth, England to the eastern coast of what is now the United States, their journey went with the blessings of the King. Until this historical sailing in September of 1620, the Mayflower had been employed exclusively as a merchant ship. The voyage to cross Atlantic bearing people in search of a new life proved to be a milestone in the ship's career, and the one that would secure her place firmly in the history books.

The U.S.S. Constitution affectionately referred to as "Old Ironsides" in reference to her sturdy construction, is one of two ships with the some of the longest wartime careers in history (the other is the British HMS Victory). The ship was constructed in the year 1797, at a time when the average vessel served for a period of only ten short years. Old Ironsides' glory came to her primarily during the Barbary Coast campaigns and the War of 1812. Now serving in Boston, Massachusetts as a popular maritime museum, she completed a cruise as recently as 2012, at the ripe old age of 215.

The Bounty was the site of a violent rebellion in 1789, which became the most famous mutiny in history. Under the cruel tyranny of Captain Bligh, the ship was seized by mutineers, who then destroyed it to hide their location. The Bounty is the subject of numerous film productions, and a replica of the original vessel was the site of a Florida museum until it sustained irreparable damage in a 2012 hurricane.

The Beagle made her landmark 1831 journey carrying the likes of Charles Darwin, the father of the theory of evolution. Here was a noble voyage in the service of scientific discovery, lasting five inquisitive years. Inspired by this milestone trip, Darwin composed a volume he titled Journals and Remarks, better known as The Voyage of the Beagle. This distinctive sailing is said to have made both the ship and Darwin himself world renowned.

The RMS Titanic was erroneously nicknamed as "unsinkable." This massive ship is arguably the most famous ocean liner of all time, and also the subject of wide onscreen acclaim. As the vessel was set to float, her size surpassed all other ships of the day. Titanic's April 10, 1912, maiden voyage to New York ended disastrously, following a collision with a North Atlantic iceberg from which the crew would not recover. Tragically, over 1,500 lost their lives to the icy waters, most of whom belonged to the steerage class. The long-anticipated luxury liner was ill-equipped, without enough lifeboats to ferry everyone aboard to safety. An outrage, to be sure, but there is a silver lining to the story: the Titanic event spurred a massive movement across the world to outfit all ships with necessary life-saving gear for all passengers.

There are so many more fascinating ships to explore throughout history, since the advent of the floating log. Famous or infamous for their various and important roles, the world of maritime lore is well worth studying.  

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