September 25, 2012

Geeky destinations: HMS Surprise

"The Surprise is not old; no one would call her old. She has a bluff bow, lovely lines. She's a fine seabird: weatherly, stiff and fast... very fast, if she's well handled. No, she's not old; she's in her prime." 
Jack Aubrey

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World completely sucked me in. I liked the characters and the stories, sure, but mostly? The magnificence of the ship captured my imagination. To use the word majestic to describe the HMS Surprise is an understatement but also a perfect description. This vessel - and others like it - bear a special kind of magnificence. Part of it is beauty and a lot of it is the skill, daring, intelligence, and sheer manpower it took to keep a ship this size afloat and on course.

I won't pretend that I remember much of what I've read about tall ships. I am horrible at retaining facts and history (you should hear me try to relate an anecdote, it's amusing and sad all at the same time), but I don't need to be able to tell you the name of every sail nor know every nautical term to know that I admire and respect them.

Seeing the film made me interested in the Patrick O'Brian series on which the movie is based. I listened to some of them and read others, and I think I've only got to about the tenth book so far. I'll eventually read all of them. The friendship between Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin is one of my favorites in fiction, and Maturin is one of the most complex and well written characters I've had the pleasure of reading.

But, I digress - a little.

A few years ago I went to the Festival of Sail in San Diego. Tall ships from all over paraded into port and anchored for a few days. Visitors could wander on board and explore, and crew members for each ship were around to answer any questions. Some of the ships made excursions out into the bay for cannon battles. After arriving to the festival, I soon learned that the HMS Surprise's permanent home was the San Diego Maritime Museum! I was delighted.

The ship used in Master and Commander moved to the museum back in 2004. The ship was born in 1970; it was a replica of the frigate known as the Rose. Filmmakers purchased the replica and took painstaking efforts to recreate a 24 gun frigate to match the time period from the books (during Nelson's time in the Royal Navy).

Though it's fully rigged, it has engines now to assist in getting around. Putting 200 souls on board isn't the most practical solution these days. It's open to the public as a museum, and if you enjoyed the movie, well, you sort of freak right out about being aboard a piece of not only film history but history. I was practically jumping up and down with excitement, but since I figured that might get me a quick ticket off the ship, I restrained myself and just giggled like a little kid instead. I'd drive down to San Diego in a heartbeat just to explore it again.

Tickets for the museum (including the historic ships, exhibits, and more) are $15. More information here.


  1. Very cool! I'll add that to my list of things to do if I ever get to San Diego!

    1. It's worth checking out! And the Festival of Sail happens every Labor Day now - it's quite the sight!

  2. Oh my word, I FREAKING LOVE that movie! I read The Golden Ocean by O'Brien, which is not part of the big main series. I may drive halfway across the country just to go to that ship museum because tall ships and Jack Aubrey are my two favorite things in life. Thank you so much for telling us about this!

    1. I love coming across other fans of the series. :) You definitely should try to see it - you'd freak out. It's amazing.

  3. I totally loved that Movie. It's a shame that it was set up for a number of sequels that never happened. After seeing the movie, I got into the Horatio Hornblower novels by C. S. Forester which are also a great series of books. Next time I get to San Diego I'll have to go see the HMS Surprise.

    1. I've heard the Horatio Hornblower books are fantastic!

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