Tuesday, June 28, 2005

England Expects

In England this week, Queen Elizabeth, the Royal Navy and 150,000 spectators are celebrating the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar with a naval review and a mock naval battle. The Queen is reviewing 160 warships from 35 navies including those of France and Spain who were soundly trounced by the English at Trafalgar. Jolly sporting of them, I say.

Did I mention that I have English roots? Thoroughbred Anglo-Saxon I am pretty sure. Not much of those Norman invaders' blood in me. I occasionally meet people from Germany who look more like me than anybody except my immediate family so I am fairly confident I am descended from the Angles and the Saxons that settled southern Britain centuries before those parvenu Frenchies came across in 1066.

So that means my patriotic pride in battles where the English whupped the French goes very deep. Unlike some Americans whose antipathy to the French seems to stem from the recent arrogance of that man Dominic de Villepin who had the temerity to interpret his role as French Foreign Minister as being to pursue French interests. Did he not know he was supposed to believe George W. Bush's claims about WMD in Iraq and loyally support the great wise leader of the western world in his headlong rush to war? And where were the WMD? Oh sorry, not allowed to ask that question. Supersize my freedom fries please. End of political rant. Sorry again. Stop apologizing -- so British.

Where was I? Oh yes. French vs English. We've been fighting each other on and off for most of a millennium. And English schoolchildren of my generation were taught about the Battle of Hastings, 1066 and all that (technically a French victory but only because some unsporting French archer shot his arrow in King Harold's eye); the Battle of Agincourt (mainly as related by Will Shakespeare with plenty of stirring lines for young King Hal); and of course the Battle of Trafalgar.

Trafalgar has all the elements of a perfect English battle story. Victory for the Brits against numerical superiority of enemy -- us 22 ships, them 33. Fighting against both of our historic enemies France and Spain. British lovers of freedom fighting against an evil continental dictator. Our heroic leader, Admiral Nelson, losing his life in the heat of his finest victory. (We love dead heroes much much more than live ones.) A score line to die for: their ships sunk - 22; our ships sunk - zero. And the famous signal from Nelson to his fleet before the battle, "England expects that every man will do his duty." Spelled out in flags of course.

Which brings me back to . After the first day of the District 10 Laser Championships, it was clear that the battle for First Grandmaster was between me and.... a Frenchman. (Grandmaster is an age category in the Laser class, not an indication of supreme ability as it is in chess. It loosely translates as, "These guys are incredibly old, we can't believe they can even get in the boat let alone race it, so whoever of these decrepit old geezers comes first we will give him a trophy.")

Where was I? Oh yeah -- me and my buddy Alain duking it out for First Grandmaster. Alain is an incredibly nice guy. He is a French chef. That is to say he is a chef by profession and French by origin, complete with accent. So on the second day of the regatta it was all down to French vs English. What Would Shakespeare Say?

At the first start there we were "like greyhounds in the slips, straining upon the start." Alain went left, I went right and he was way ahead at the first windward mark. I gradually reduced the distance between us on the reaches and the second beat. Going down the run there were some nice waves to ride but he was still ahead of me at the start of the final beat. Somehow I played the shifts better and passed him halfway up the beat. Tight cover all the rest of the way. England 1 - France 0.

Second race was pretty much the same story. England 2 - France 0.

Final race of the day. "Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more, or close the wall up with our English dead!" Once again my Gallic friend took the early lead. Once again I was unable to catch him and was still behind him starting the final beat. I hiked as hard as I could. Hiked 'till it hurt. With 100 yards to go he crossed ahead of me. "But when the blast of war blows in our ears, then imitate the action of the tiger: stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood." I did my best to stiffen my aching sinews and summon up my overheated blood. Hiked from the tips of my toes. Next tack I crossed ahead and just beat Alain across the line. England 3 - France 0.

We laughed about the day afterwards and promised to meet up again for a return match at the Atlantic Coast Championships in July.

Scheherazade wrote about having to fix incorrect embroidery on her regatta trophies. I had a similar problem at a regatta I organized earlier in the year. Apparently the organizers of this regatta were not as fastidious as Sherry and me. When I arrived home, I saw that my trophy read "FIRST GARANDMASTER". Is that the French spelling?


EVK4 said...

Congratulations...sounds like a great race.

Rumor has it that Nelson originally wanted it to read, "England confides that every man will do his duty" but that the word confides would have to be spelled whereas they had a flag for expects. So history was made.

Tillerman said...

EVK4 is correct.

For anyone who is really into how the Royal Navy used flag signals in 1805 check out http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/England_expects_that_every_man_will_do_his_duty

There is even a graphic of how the famous signal would look.

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