Saturday 19 September 2015

A visit on board the Russian Frigate Shtandart

The other weekend we were down in Cowes for a long weekend to watch the Cowes Torquay Cowes powerboat race. We were all having dinner on Friday night in the Island Sailing Club when there was a bit of a commotion on the balcony as people were trying to get a photograph of something coming into Cowes Roads. It couldn't just be a powerboat arriving so I sent Guy off to have a look.

 "It's a big Square rigger coming into the Jubilee landing stage" he said. Now you see quite a few square riggers in the Solent but they all tend to be sail training ships which usually have a nineteen twenties configuration with large deck houses etc. 

This was different, however, as it looked exactly like an eighteenth century ship.  "A pirate ship! as the Old Bat declared. Looking at it more closely I saw that it had a large yellow band along the hull and distinctive circular decorated gun ports. It looked just like the sailing ship that had appeared in the film The Sovereign's Servant which I reviewed on these pages some years ago. 

When we went down to look at it the next morning I saw that it was flying a Russian flag and, having spoken to one of the crew, found out that it was, indeed, the vessel that had appeared briefly in the Russian film about the Great Northern War. We got to explore what turned out to be the frigate Shtandart, a replica of Peter the Great's first flagship of the Russian Imperial Fleet which was launched in 1703. 

It looked like a pirate ship because it was from bang in the middle of the Golden Age of piracy (although the effect was increased by the fact that they were playing the soundtrack to Pirates of the Caribbean on board). The ship was designed to be the first of a fleet which would wrest control of the Baltic from the Swedish Navy.  This shot demonstrates why I am unhappy with most model pirate ships for wargaming and, especially, most of the scratch built ones you see, which have slab sides.  Look at the inward sloping curve on the hull; that's what a pirate ship needs to look like!

The replica took six tears to build and was launched in St Petersburg (as was the original) in 1998 and had been built from larch, with an oak keel and frames, from forests planted in 1730 specifically designed to be used as ship lumber.  All the wood for the vessel came from forests around St Petersburg.

20 people sleep in here

The permanent crew is six to ten people with twenty five to thirty trainees.  The original ship had a crew of 120.  In the main cabin they now have up to 20 people sleeping in hammocks which must be very cosy, as there was not a lot of space.  

Not a lot of privacy either; we met several young Russian ladies who were part of the crew coming back from a shopping trip from the new Marks & Spencer food shop in Cowes (at last!).  We were told by the Russians that although the lower deck has modern facilities, on several occasions the toilets had failed and they actually had to use the traditional 'head' at the bow (above).  Scary!

Guy and Charlotte at the captain's table

The Captain's stern cabin was on the cozy side too and it made me realise, when watching Black Sails last night, how ludicrously oversized the ship's cabin sets are in that.

The cannons on deck (the original carries twenty-four) were all made of iron and not plastic as you usually see these days.

Looking over the stern towards the RYS

They all were capable of firing too, we were told by the crew.  Indeed, when they had sailed into port the night before, they had fired a cannon in salute as they passed the Royal Yacht Squadron.  Quick as a flash the RYS fired one of their cannon in salute back.  

Compared with ships from the period you see portrayed on TV and in films the amount of deck space was very small, even with the cannon tucked away under the gunwales.

The ship is 113 feet overall with just a 23 feet beam and a 100 foot tall mainmast.  Everything is very cramped and it is the first time I have got a real feeling for what it must have been like to serve on a frigate in the age of sail.  Standing on the deck of HMS Victory or USS Constitution (which is over twice the length and twice the beam) does not really do this!

Oh, and there are a lot of ropes.  I mean, really a lot of ropes.  Everywhere.  No wonder you don't see them portrayed on wargames models!

Charlotte has always wanted to be a pirate and I think this was the closest that she will ever come.  Even the Old Bat found it fascinating but, having crossed the Gulf of Finland in a small boat in a force seven, I wouldn't fancy going too far on the Shtandart in rough weather, let alone going aloft to get the sails in and out as the Russian girls said they did.

So it was really like stepping back in time and next time I read a Patrick O'Brian or Alexander Kent novel I will have a much better idea of what the conditions were like on these early frigates. 

Friday 21 January 2011

Swedish Cavalry delayed

The Musketeer Miniatures blog says that the release of the Swedish cavalry won't now be until March or April.  The reason for this is that Bill was having problems sourcing illustrations of Swedish cavalry.  I sent him some of the pictures I took in the Swedish Army Museum in Stockholm a few years ago and he had had other material too so I think the delay is for a good reason: establishing historical accuracy.

Saturday 9 October 2010

Some more Russian command.

I've managed to finish two more from the relatively new Musketeer Miniatures Russian command pack. There are no flags from LBM yet so I have given the standard bearer a temporary company colour for the Preobrazhensky Life Guards. Hopefully, by the time I finish the unit proper flags will be available. I have some more Russians based and ready for painting so may start some soon but only after I have finished painting some of the part finished units which are taking up space on my table.

Command so far

Wednesday 8 September 2010

Some Russian command...

I picked up some more Musketeer Miniatures Russians on eBay recently, so will try and get some more done soon. In the meantime, I have painted a couple of figures from the relatively new command pack. They represent the Preobrazhensky Life Guards. I also have an officer and a standard bearer nearly done but, as yet, there are no flags for the Russians, as there are for the Swedes, from Little Big Men.
I based the uniforms and drum colours on this group of St Petersburg re-enactors. Partizans in the Russian army at the time had single spear-like points rather than the trefoil designs seen in the west.

Friday 10 July 2009

The Sovereign's Servant

The Swedes are coming!

Having seen this 2007 Russian film trailed on the Wars of Louis Quatorze blog I decided to order the international version (which has French and English subtitles) direct from the manufacturer I have to say that I wasn't that confident of it arriving from Russia but it appeared in just over a week.


There is some discussion on IMDB about it not being very historically accurate, the uniforms being too clean and the languages other than Russian (Swedish, French, Polish, Ukrainian) being mangled (the actors learnt it phonetically) but as I don't speak any of those (except French and that sounds OK) I didn't really notice. Also I'm not bothered about whether it was a historic re-enactment of Poltava or not. This is because it had Swedish and Russian GNW armies hammering it out in big budget widescreen and when are you ever likely to see that again?

Court in a trap

The film itself is about two French aristocrats who, having fought a duel over a woman, are sent by a disapproving Louis XIV to observe the Swedish and Russian armies just before Poltava.

Our hero

Our hero is an Orlando Bloom-a-like who treks across Poland to meet up with the Russians; encountering Polish partisans, dastardly Swedes (very much the villains) and a Russian soldier who befriends him. It all climaxes at a pretty well done Poltava (although the redoubts are a bit Sharpe like).

Swedes sir, thousands of em!

Other than getting me to want to paint some more GNW figures, naturally, the film, because of its Russian slant has got me more enthused about painting a Russian Army.

Charge! They look just like the Musketeer minatures figures!

I had been so biased towards the Swedes that I just didn't care much about the Russians but now that has changed and I can't wait to get going on the pikemen (none in the film) which I ordered from Musketeer a month ago. So I think I will take these on holiday with me next month.

Musketeer Miniatures; we need Russian command figures! Now!

I'd certainly recommend The Sovereign's Servant. It's beautifully filmed, there are hundreds (rather than dozens, a la Sharpe) of extras in the battle scenes and some of the background women are breathtaking as only Russian women can be. I was giving a lecture in Smolny, the St Petersburg city hall, a couple of years ago, and a bell rang and all the city secretaries came out for lunch. It was like Milan fashion week; I've never seen so many beautiful women in one place at one time (and I've been to a model's party at Milan Fashion Week!)

Katie Holmes-a-like heroine smirks at Louis XIV

It's gory without overdoing it (blood but no guts, a few hangings and a beheading) and there are a few (not enough, given the quality of the actresses!) glimpses of partial female nudity (which I know worries some non-Europeans).

I want this ship!

There is also a lovely eighteenth century sailing ship in it which was a bonus as far as I am concerned.

I really enjoyed this film, despite the historical inaccuracies (although they got some things right; like Charles XII getting a foot wound just before the battle) and think that it will be a long time before we ever see another film set in the Great Northern War.

Wednesday 3 June 2009

More Russian Musketeers

I've now painted the four I have got and have ordered some of the new pikemen. Hopefully command and Grenadiers won't be too far behind! One thing I'm not sure about. On my first figure I just gave him the single sword like the pikemen have. I'm not sure if this is right or not or why I did it so I have given these most recent three the bayonet/sword combination. I must count out what I have left unapinted to see what is right.

Hopefully Musketeer Miniatures will also commission flags for the Russians as well.

Saturday 25 April 2009

Russian Musketeer

All this talk about Russians has made me remember that I actually finished one Russian infantryman ages ago. Here he is and I hope he will have a lot more companions shortly! Let's hope I can remember what shade of green I used on him. It's so long ago I have forgotten!