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.

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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.

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

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

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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.

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

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Scarborough, Sandcastles and Stories

This is the fourth in a series of posts exploring artistic responses to former Scarborough attractions.

For the others please see the following links:

The Making of a Chairlift

Back to Childhood

A Third Hispaniola?

The humble sandcastle is emblematic of the traditional British seaside holiday. And yet, when I visited Scarborough as a child, it was not my brothers and I who were the main sandcastle builders, but my mum.

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Above: No sandcastles for me – apparently I liked to draw random circles in the sand (from the author’s personal collection)

Sidenote: Can you spot the Marvel’s chairlifts in the background?

My mum’s sandcastles were elaborate affairs – a huge mountain of sand was surrounded by a fortress of small castles, and crowned with a singular form on the top. This uppermost castle usually ended up with a flag of some kind piercing its roof, and a deep moat around the outside was filled with seawater. The outer walls and entry road were painstakingly patted into place. On every seaside visit this formula was repeated to a high degree of accuracy.

But what, you might ask, has this got to do with any of the former seaside attractions investigated here?

Well, firstly, sand is part of the language of the seaside, and all of the attractions are inevitably tied to Scarborough’s status as a seaside resort. I wanted to find a way to reference more general themes  of the project. Childhood is another example – playing with sand is something many of us did as kids, whether that be at the seaside or in a sandpit.

Above: Playing with sand is more commonly a childhood pursuit (Copyright: Stories From Scarborough)

Secondly, I wanted to find a material that would effectively represent the decay of the chosen attractions. Sand is malleable, but also incredibly fragile. One of the things I love about sandcastles is that, when the day ends, the sea washes them away, and the beach is smoothed out, like a fresh canvas for a new morning.

Above: A metaphor for the fading memories of former attractions? (Copyright: Stories From Scarborough)

When I visited the Marvel’s site last week, I was struck by how swiftly Nature had erased many traces of the amusement park’s existence. I like the idea that no matter what we build, Nature always reclaims the land back eventually. Whilst there is a sadness to be found in the dereliction, and in some cases, redevelopment of old attractions, there is also a sense of rebirth and recovery. After all, building an attraction arguably violates the natural world, and when it fades away, plants, trees and animals return.

Enough philosophy for now.

More about the sandcastles!

Above: Experimenting with sand (Copyright: Stories From Scarborough)

I began by simply experimenting with the sand, and the bucket and spade (bought from the seafront at Scarborough of course!). I also used various props to reference former attractions – such as the cardboard water chute sign above and chocolate coin wrappers as stand-ins for the Hispaniola doubloons.

Above: Signs and symbols (Copyright: Stories From Scarborough)

Below: Burying Kinderland (Copyright: Stories From Scarborough)

I enjoyed the lines, shapes and texture of the sand, and the process of constructing, destroying and reconstructing castles – repetitive gestures that mimicked both my mum’s methodical building processes and the ongoing history of development, redevelopment and dereliction that has characterised many of Scarborough’s attraction sites.

Above: The Marvel’s site has witnessed multiple redevelopments; and dereliction (Copyright: Stories From Scarborough)

Following initial experiments I developed the idea further by creating crumbling sandcastle memorials to each attraction, complete with a handmade flag featuring a fragmented image of said attraction.

Above: A Marvel’s memorial? (Copyright: Stories From Scarborough)

Below: A tribute to Waterscene? (Copyright: Stories From Scarborough)

The strength of these sculptures lies in their temporary existence. In moments the sand starts to turn to dust, and slowly but surely the primitive structures cave in. They never last for a long time, like, say, a grand old painting in an art gallery. In a way they are like the memories I’m exploring – fragile, temporary and always changing.

Above: The crumbling memories of long lost attractions (Copyright: Stories From Scarborough)

I plan to develop this idea further once I arrive in Scarborough, possibly on the North Bay – mainly because this is nearest to the majority of the attractions I’m researching, but also because this is the beach I always played on as a child – more often than the louder, busier South Bay.

Making sandcastle memorials with real Scarborough sand would be so much more meaningful – perhaps I could even hold a memorial service for all the long lost attractions. Perhaps.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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

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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.

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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.