All Aboard The Hispaniola!

Back in 1949, a 1/4 scale replica of an eighteenth century schooner first set sail in Scarborough. Named The Hispaniola, it would later spend almost fifty years taking excited passengers to Treasure Island – a small piece of land on Scarborough Mere – where gold doubloons were hidden. Visitors would probe the sand with sticks to uncover their share of the ‘treasure’, whilst sharing friendly banter with the ship crew – who masqueraded as pirates.


Above: The Hispaniola of times gone by (from the author’s collection)

Fast forward to 2014, and the Hispaniola has not sailed on the Mere for over twenty years. However, following restoration and repairs it now travels along the South Bay, taking a short route from the harbour and back.


Above: The Hispaniola sailing along the South Bay (Copyright: Stories From Scarborough)

Below: Moored at the harbour (Copyright: Stories From Scarborough)


Whilst on-board, passengers can take in glorious views of the South Bay, including the Spa, Grand Hotel, and seafront amusements, as can be seen below:

Above: Views of the South Bay from the Hispaniola (Copyright: Stories From Scarborough)

The trip is affordable, at £3 a ride (for adults and children), and the ship’s pirate heritage is commemorated with a recorded ‘pirate’ introduction at the start of the trip, and a peg-legged figure who advertises the attraction on the harbourside.


Above: The pirate(s) await (Copyright: Stories From Scarborough)

However, the current day Hispaniola is, in some ways, very different to its older incarnation.


Above: The Hispaniola approaching the harbour (Copyright: Stories From Scarborough)

It boasts a shining coat of paint, new colours and decorations, and an up-to-date engine.


Above: The boat is clean and brightly painted (Copyright: Stories From Scarborough)

But there is no longer a Treasure Island, nor are there doubloons, maps or certificates – although there are black Jolly Roger stickers for those who want them. Furthermore, most of the staff don’t seem to wear costumes, or assume pirate alter-egos, although the gentleman at the entrance wore a jaunty pirate-themed outfit, and seemed enthusiastic. The boat staff, on the other hand, were men of few words.


Above: The pirate theme is now more subtle – small reminders decorate the boat (Copyright: Stories From Scarborough)

The voyage is a calm, quiet one, with none of the rowdy jokes made by staff of old, who would tease the kids and truly played the part. Back then, the Hispaniola was only part of a larger story – a game of make-believe that could engage families for a good few hours. Now the Hispaniola alone is the story. The experience is 15 minutes, and the pirates are only hinted at briefly.


Above: Holidaymakers watch the vessel on its brief voyage (Copyright: Stories From Scarborough)

Arguably, it is great to see the schooner still in action, keeping Scarborough’s Hispaniola attraction alive; but for older travellers, who might remember the days of pirates on the Mere, there is a sense of something missing. Perhaps it’s the expectation of treasure, or the chance to meet the characters from Robert Louis Stevenson’s book, Treasure Island, on which the attraction is based. Maybe it’s the original staff, whose pirate antics made children truly believe that they were going on a swashbuckling adventure.

*This post is based on the author’s experience of riding the Hispaniola on the Mere and around the South Bay – these experiences are not necessarily representative of every voyage at either venue.

13 thoughts on “All Aboard The Hispaniola!

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  9. Absolutely shocking! My 6yr old was well excited to go on a pirate ship but came off absolutely deflated! No mention of pirates or treasure at any point!! In fact the only time the crewmen spoke was to ask for the money. Even some info about the boat/sights of Scarborough would have been nice but nothing!! It may be cheap but to be honest a pointless boat trip, the worst I’ve ever had!

    • Hi Julie,

      I’m sorry to hear that you and your son had a disappointing experience. As my articles on here point out, the attraction has changed considerably since it began in 1949 – I had the benefit of enjoying it before it left the Mere in 1993, and, having taken a ride on the new version several years ago, it was sadly less lively and engaging, although I appreciate the efforts made to maintain the boat/attraction – I’d hate to think of it being closed down completely. Did you pass on your feedback to the attraction staff? Perhaps with more passenger suggestions the operators might be able to improve the overall experience, particularly for children. I think the best thing they could do is introduce a bit more staff interaction during the ride – the ‘pirates’ of the original attraction were brilliant and as a child I found this magical…I also think your suggestion about describing the sights along the way is an excellent one, well worth passing on.

      Best wishes,

      Sarah (Stories From Scarborough)

  10. My trip on the Hispaliola to Treasure Island, forty years ago, was a magical experience. The pirates convivial and jolly, and quite convincing with their costumes and deep throated “Arrrr…..”s. It’s a pity to read that the Hispaniola experience has lost its magic, crewed by jobsworths rather than hearty old sea dogs. Seems like the management now view it as just another soulless money spinner, rather than an experience that the public can treasure in their memories for ever. But maybe, with a change of management, future generations will be able to enjoy the experience as we remember it.

  11. I thought the Hispaniola would be long gone so was delighted to discover it whilst researching pleasure boats in Great Yarmouth, it’s great to see the boat still exists even if the experience would fall short of what I remembered of my own childhood trips, but for just how long it can be reliably sustained in light of what people are experiencing in its newer incarnation remains to be seen, the interaction with the children, and the wearing of suitable costumes by the crew would hardly break the bank and are easily put in place, I’d see it as me securing my future were I a crew member 😀

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