Ariadne is making her passage southwest towards the Canary Islands. She has left the Bay of Biscay and has turned south to parallel the Spanish and Portuguese Atlantic coast.
This routing is standard for sailing vessels making their way to the Caribbean from Europe; the passage south to around 20 degrees of latitude north of the equator assists skippers in finding favorable North Easterly trade winds. These steady breezes can carry sailors at a comfortable pace to the west along convenient lines of latitude direct to their destination. It also takes them past some significant sites in British Naval history.
At the end of the eighteenth and the start of the nineteenth centuries Britain was under threat of invasion from the combined French and Spanish forces under the command of Napoleon. The French dictator was busy establishing superiority over much of what is now Western Europe, and the British were keen to keep his expansive intentions under control.
Napoleon had plans to control the English Channel in order to allow his invasion force to cross unopposed by the powerful Royal Navy. To facilitate this strategy the aggressors planned several feinting moves as far afield as the Caribbean and the Mediterranean to try and draw the strength of the Royal Navy away from the homeland.
Their strategy failed and 2 significant sea battles took place in 1805, the first off the coast of Cape Finisterre in July of that year. The result of the battle was indecisive and both sides claimed victory. That said, the British losses were far lighter. However, the French Admiral Villeneuve failed to take advantage of the uncertain strategic situation following the battle and remained on the coast of Spain, in the port of Cadiz to repair and refit his fleet.
In October of that same year the British fleet closed in again on the Allied Franco Spanish fleet as they tried to break out of their repair shelter in Cadiz, and the British, under Admiral Horatio Nelson achieved a substantial victory largely wiping out the Franco Spanish fleet at the Battle of Trafalgar. Nelson lost his life in that battle, victim to a sharpshooter’s bullet, but his name lives on to this day.
Nelson was an Admiral of the Red squadron of the Royal Navy, from a time in Naval History when the fleet was divided into 3 squadrons, the Red, the White and the Blue. Ships of each squadron flew an identifying ensign to distinguish themselves. This practice continued until the Navy was reorganized in 1864 when all vessels of fleet began to fly a single, common, white ensign as they do to this day. The red ensign became the flag of the British Merchant Navy and other privately owned British ships, and as such that is the flag that Ariadne sails under as she passes these battlegrounds!
Hopefully there will be no skirmish for her as she passes - and we look forward to seeing her make progress toward Tortola as the month unfolds!