Historic voyage recreating Pilgrim Father’s journey is told in newly-published diary
- Credit: Gordon Tenney/Life Magazine
The story of a voyage replicating the journey of the early English settlers to the New World is told in a diary kept by Suffolk author Peter Padfield.
He was a crewman on board the 1957 Mayflower II that sailed from Plymouth in Devon to Plymouth, Massachussetts, as a celebration of the special relationship between Britain and America.
His journal, featuring sketches and photographs, is being published to commemorate the 400th anniversary next year of the Pilgrim Fathers setting sail to America.
Now aged 87 and living in Woodbridge, Peter's diary of the voyage 'Mayflower II - Sketches From A Lost Age' is to released on September 7 with a launch event in Brixham, Devon, featuring surviving members of the crew.
Brixham is where Mayflower II was built, but it is now berthed in America undergoing restoration ahead of anniversary celebrations next year.
Yet Peter, who today is a renowned historian and writer, had to be encouraged to dig his diaries out.
"I didn't want to do it, I just didn't feel anyone would want to read my diary," he said.
"But I was persuaded to do it mostly by my children and some friends and I think it's been done very well.
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"The sketches I did on board have been improved particularly well, plus there's stacks of pictures. I love it."
Mayflower II replicated as closely as possible an English sailing ship of the 17th century.
Bored with his job as an officer with the P&O shipping company, Peter applied for a place in the crew for an experience that would change his life.
But the voyage was not all plain-sailing. He said: "We were at sea a long time and at first it was pretty tough as we went straight across the route the Pilgrim Fathers took, which was a northern route.
"But Alan Villiers decided we might well lose the masts if we stayed on the original course so we took a more southerly route.
"After that it was a very pleasant voyage, we would even swim in the sea."
As a crewman Peter worked four hours on and eight hours off, helping tend the sails and rigging as well as general maintenance around the ship.
But he also had a special responsibilty - being in charge of 20,000 envelopes that had to be stamped and franked 'Maiden Voyage Mayflower II'.
"These were to be sold to philatelists and help pay for the voyage," he said.
"It sounds pretty unappealing but you would get a bit of a production line going and in the end it wasn't so bad."
Peter said a key reason the voyage was so enjoyable was down to Alan Villiers - a hugely experienced Australan sailor and decorated wartime naval officer.
"Villiers picked a marvellous crew," he said.
"We only really had one serious quarrel that I can recall, which among 30 men in that kind of environment was pretty remarkable.
"Villiers used to dish out a drink if you'd done anything well. There were plenty of cigarettes as well for those who smoked, or sweets for the non-smokers such as me.
"Every Sunday we would dress up in 17th century costumes on the quarter-deck for a service led by Alan Villiers, who would read a passage from Governor Bradford's journal."
Peter looks back on the voyage fondly: "I think some people did get a bit bored, but I didn't. It was a very happy time for me.
"I enjoyed the utter separation from civilisation, just being quite alone and with nature. The stars in the night sky were absolutely fantastic.
"It was a life-changing experience, without doubt. There were so many different types in the crew and I saw many different sides of people.
"I had been an officer with P&O and I realised I didn't need to follow that path any more. I travelled and then became a writer."
'Mayflower II - Sketches From A Lost Age' is published by Casa Forte Press and is available from Amazon, Nielsen and selcted bookshops.