The Grand Turk was commissioned by ITV for the Hornblower series starring Loan Gruffudd in the title role and Robert Lindsay, and was the first wooden frigate to be built for more than 150 years.
I never expected it to be easy - after all, my family has experience of shipbuilding that goes back to the 12th Century - but we were hit by so many disasters, including droughts, animal sacrifices and gun-wielding debt collectors, that I thought I might die trying.
My first task, when I won the commission in 1996, was to find the best place to build such a ship because, sadly, Britain no longer had enough skilled shipwrights to rule the waves. We finally chose Marmaris in Turkey, which had a highly skilled workforce and an enviable reputation within the industry. We aimed to start work in December 1996 and deliver the ship for the beginning of filming in Yalta, on the Black Sea coast of Ukraine, the following summer.
But when we arrived in Marmaris, the timber we had ordered - 200 hardwood trees - was not there. A drought in Africa meant the trees could not be floated down-river for export and we had to scour Europe for replacement wood. At the same time, Turkey's worst weather in 50 years caused long power cuts.
And brilliant craftsmen though the Turks were, they had no concept of health and safety. One cold morning we turned up to see flames licking the base of the hull. We were convinced it was on fire, but the workmen had placed braziers under the ship to keep warm. One spark could have set the whole 314-ton vessel ablaze.
Their Muslim faith also presented problems. Since only Allah was capable of perfection, they insisted on making deliberate mistakes to remind us that 'God is Great'.
With inflation at more than 70 per cent, Turkish banks were desperate to hold on to funds, so although our cash was being wired from Britain almost every week, we had to battle constantly with the local branch in Marmaris to get it.
Once, a Turkish debt-collector waved a pistol at me and screamed in broken English after a £5,000 cheque apparently bounced.
'I need immediate payment!' he yelled, taking a menacing step towards me. 'If you don't pay there will be big problems. Big problems for you.'
He was eventually placated, but it was touch and go for a while.
We finished the ship, which we named the Grand Turk, in August 1997 only a month late. She was a magnificent sight: a ship Nelson himself would have been proud of, and we were anxious to set sail for Yalta.
But our workforce still had one surprise up their sleeves. The Grand Turk could go nowhere, we were told, until a bull was brought to the shipyard and castrated. The blood then had to be daubed on the ship from the bow to the stern using the bull's penis to imbue her with the strength of the dead animal.
At first I forbade it but when I was told the ship would be cursed, I reluctantly gave in and allowed the ceremony to take place. The ship was launched a day later.
Hornblower premiered on ITV that autumn and was a huge critical and popular success. Since then, the Grand Turk has been used for sailing events, corporate or private charter, and receptions in her spacious saloon or on the deck. But now I'm putting her up for sale because I am retiring.
I will be sad to let her go - she is a wonderful reminder of how great the British Navy once was, and she draws crowds wherever she goes.
God bless her, and all who sail in her.
[ Grand Turk ]
For further details or to arrange to view, please contact Adrian Espin at: - Astonbury Marine Services
19 Colne Road, Brightlingsea, Essex, CO7 0DL Tel: 01206 305 996 or +44 1206 305 996
or email to: adrian@EasternYachts.com
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