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.