Voyage of the Hispaniola

Scarborough’s Hispaniola is perhaps the best documented of the attractions selected for this archive.

Unlike Kinderland, Marvel’s, Atlantis and Millennium, this attraction has enjoyed a long and consistent life, with the Hispaniola making pirate-themed trips across Scarborough Mere for nearly half a century. Sadly these voyages ceased several decades ago, although the boat still carries passengers along the South Bay during high season.

hisp1

Above: The Hispaniola on the Mere (from the author’s collection)

Inspired by Robert Louis Stevenson’s famous Treasure Island story, the Hispaniola took visitors to a small island on Scarborough Mere to dig for treasure.

Treasure Island

Above: Stevenson’s Treasure Island inspired the Hispaniola attraction (source)

Sailing from the mainland in a replica galleon (named after Stevenson’s fictional vessel in the story), children and their families were greeted by staff dressed as pirates, and escorted to ‘Treasure Island’, where imitation gold coins had been cunningly concealed in the sandy soil. Using wooden branches and sticks, youngsters were encouraged to find the ‘treasure’. Success was rewarded with a certificate, and failure with a dreaded black stamp.

I remember frantically swiping at the soil with a tree branch, anxious to find a doubloon before my two brothers did. The ‘pirates’ were very convincing – both fearsome and funny! I don’t remember a black stamp when I visited (perhaps that was an earlier feature?) although vaguely recall the small certificate. Riding the boat was exciting – like being a real pirate. Or so I thought. At the time…

The Hispaniola first graced the waters of Scarborough Mere in 1949, and on only it’s second ever voyage, on June 18, 1949, it ran aground, becoming trapped in mud only metres from ‘Treasure Island’. Passengers included the Mayor and Mayoress, local dignitaries and 10 children. According to the Scarborough News, the Mayor saw the lighter side of the unfortunate situation:

There is no truth in the suggestion that Long John Silver’s charts were faulty.

Doubloons all bore the image of the Hispaniola. Initially made from metal, they were later replaced with plastic versions. However, in spite of small changes to the Treasure Island trips, the attraction managed to survive virtually unchanged for multiple decades, often enjoyed by several generations of the same family.

Hispaniola

Above: The Hispaniola (source)

During the twentieth century, Scarborough Mere was a popular park with a cafe, rowing boats and canoes. Water sports still take place there today, and the shores are frequently lined with fishing enthusiasts. However, today’s Mere is an altogether quieter place without its boats, scores of excited children, and, of course, pirates.

Scarborough Mere

Above: Old postcard depicting boats on the Mere (source)

Below: The Mere today (author’s personal collection)

themere

From 1993 the Hispaniola stopped sailing on the Mere, to the uproar of former passengers; young and old. A number of reasons were given for ending this popular council-run tradition – loss of money, unfavourable sailing conditions (due to an excess of weeds and silt on the bed of the Mere) and the boat’s engine problems. Others suggested that the closure was part of longer term proposals to redevelop the area as a country park, with a focus upon nature, fishing and quieter endeavors.

As for the Hispaniola, after spending a long period beached near the North Bay Bathing Pool, she eventually sailed again, making trips for tourists along the South Bay.

Hispaniola

Above: The Hispaniola, moored at Scarborough Harbour (source)

As with the brief histories of the other attractions compiled here, this account is based on limited sources – mainly Scarborough News and memories posted on obscure forums.

Please comment below to share memories, corrections and any other information about the Hispaniola.

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25 thoughts on “Voyage of the Hispaniola

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  15. Hi all I was told it was not the same boat that now tours the Sough bay. Great memories of sailing in it with my Sister on the mere and searching for gold. So is this the same boat we are 100% sure. It was a local that was working beside it at the South bay that told us it was not so we just believed he was right.

    ?????
    Great if its the same boat that I now see when I’m back in Scarb.

    • Hi Stewart – thanks for commenting. As far as I’m aware from the research I’ve done, numerous sources support the case for it being the same boat. It looks different because it was refurbished/repaired/repainted before being relaunched on the South Bay. Sadly there aren’t any pirates on the new version, or gold doubloons – you can read more about the current day attraction here.

      Still worth a ride though, as the views of the South Bay from the ship are lovely. Always nice to hear from people like yourself who remember the original voyages on the Mere!

      • would love to know if its the same boat. Liking your scarborough words and stuff, need to read more of it as there is a fair bit to go at!

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  20. Slightly surreal now to remember the old ‘Hispaniola’ and digging in the island sand, back in the 1970s. Why was there a Treasure Island in Yorkshire? The doubloons were plastic in my day but the joy of discovery was just as real and I do recall how much the ‘pirates’ seemed to share the children’s fun. Another joy was realising I was better at handling the rowing boats than my elder brother, and in later years fishing for the monstrous but elusive carp. I also recall seeing a annual procession of floats (literally) on the mere, with fireworks, perhaps at Christmas??

    • Thanks for commenting Tony! Lovely to read your memories – I didn’t realise there was a Christmas procession. Will have to look into that. Please do get in touch if you remember any other details.

  21. I lived in Scarborough as a small child in the 1960s and found myself today telling my grandchildren about when I sailed on a “real” pirate ship with “real” pirates to dig in the sand for treasure. Happy memories!

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