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Last Updated: Tuesday, 28 June 2005, 07:15 GMT 08:15 UK
Following in Nelson's footsteps
By Katy Glassborow
BBC News, Portsmouth

Grand Turk's rigging
The Grand Turk is based on the design of an 18th century frigate
It is a sailor's dream - to follow in the footsteps of the most famous British mariner of all time.

The tall ship Grand Turk has been chosen to play the part of HMS Victory, in front of the Queen and on a world stage, re-enacting Nelson's triumphant sea battle over France and Spain 200 years ago.

The crew spent all day on Monday preparing for the honour, due to take place after the International Fleet Review on Tuesday evening.

They hoisted up sails, shimmied down ropes, fired cannons and saluted naval warships as they practised for Tuesday's steam past.

I am in awe of the seamanship of the old sailors, they were incredibly brave to go to sea
Captain Ian MacDougal
Working on the replica 18th century frigate, which had a starring role in the television series 'Hornblower', gives crew members a unique insight into what life was like for Nelson's men.

Deckhand Melanie Higgins will be firing the cannons as part of the battle re-enactment with 12 other tall ships. An actor, playing Nelson, will be 'shot' amid dramatic plumes of smoke and pyrotechnics.

"I can't imagine what it was actually like to be in the middle of the ocean waiting to fight. Nelson's crew had a lot of guts and nerve", said Melanie.

Image of invincibility

Captain Ian MacDougal explained that the sailors of Nelson's era had genuine sea sense: "Having driven this ship - complete with modern navigational equipment - for 7 years, I am in awe of the seamanship of the old sailors.

"They were incredibly brave to go to sea."

Grand Turk's crew
The crew will be dressed in period costume in Tuesday's re-enactment
But it was sea sense combined with tactical brilliance that secured victory against the combined French and Spanish fleet.

First Mate Francis Noel-Hudson explained: "Fighting with sailing ships was extremely clever.

"For example, you had to work out what the weather was doing with staggeringly little information apart from what could be seen."

Nelson's victory was so profound that it went on to cast a spell of invincibility over Britain as a sea power for years to come.

Francis Noel-Hudson believes Tuesday's re-enactment, and the involvement of tall ships in the Fleet Review, is important to stimulate the public imagination and commemorate an extraordinary period of world exploration.

However the First Mate, who is half French, hopes the Trafalgar 200 celebrations will not be a slap on the back for the Brits.

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"I hope we are past the stage of triumphing about the victory," he said.

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