Vivid memories aboard the Mayflower II

Sep 16, 2019

It was a symbol of appreciation from one nation to another and the vivid recreation of one of history’s most fabled voyages.

And today, memories of the Mayflower II's remarkable journey in 1957 from the UK to the USA still glitter in the minds of those lucky enough to witness it.

In September 2019 the ship, a faithful replica of the original Mayflower and a gift to America as a thank you from the UK for its support in the Second World War, was relaunched after a multi-million pound refit ahead of the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower’s voyage in 2020.

And the Mayflower II’s own Atlantic crossing has been remembered in a fascinating book by crewman Peter Padfield, who was lucky enough to be on board when it departed Plymouth, UK, for the city’s American namesake Plymouth, Massachusetts.

Peter has kindly supplied some original footage shot on board the Mayflower II in an eight-week epic beginning on April 20, 1957.

View a selection of the footage below

Video copyright Peter Padfield. Reproduction strictly by request only

The journal he wrote on board, together with an engrossing series of pictures and sketches have been edited to create the absorbing Mayflower II Diary: Sketches From a Lost Age.

His memories are of a unique time aboard a ship that had been masterfully crafted by shipbuilders in Brixham, Devon, and a chance to sail relying on traditional methods only.

Peter, now 87, remembers swimming in the mid-Atlantic, the sails against the clear night sky and hours spent sketching the ship on the ocean while being cut off from civilisation.

“It really was an honour, and the crew were exceptional,” Peter said. “There were 33 of us cramped below deck but on deck it absolutely marvellous.

“The crew only had one quarrel for the entire journey and this book is dedicated to their memory really.”

Peter Padfield

Peter signing copies of his new book at its official launch

Peter was picked to go on board by Captain Alan Villiers after he spotted an article about the Mayflower II in a magazine while he was working on board the P&O cruiser Strathmore as a 25-year-old officer.

He didn’t hesitate to put his name forward and after meeting Capt Villiers he was one of the lucky few chosen to take part.

The Mayflower II had been built using traditional methods and was full of “treasure chests” that showed off British industry to the world.

Peter recalls great ceremony when the ship departed Plymouth but there were difficult times ahead.

"The start of the voyage was very tough indeed," he said. "We had loaded a lot of iron ballast on board to keep the ship stable which was hard work.
“Then we set off in the direction the Pilgrims had taken only to be confronted by some almighty winds. The conditions were tough and we spent days and nights on watch - four hours on, four hours off.

“Capt Villiers believed we would become dismasted if we tried to continue so he decided on a southern loop instead.

“When we reached the Doldrums it was marvellous - we swam in the Atlantic and had an excellent time of it.”

Mayflower II replica

The Mayflower II is officially unveiled after its restoration

The ship encountered another storm in Bermuda but battled on, coming up the east coast of America to arrive in Plymouth on June 22 - where they were treated like royalty.

“The Americans were so far ahead of us at the time,” Peter remembers. “We were a nation not long out of rationing while America was booming.

“We were entertained from function to function for days on end and stayed with families who treated us so well. There was ticker tape on the streets!”

Mayflower II
The same families the crew stayed with in 1957 would continue to host them years later and the bond between the crew stuck. There are only four remaining today but they stay firmly in touch.

In the years since the voyage, memories of the project have been kept alive by the Plimoth Plantation living history museum, which owns the ship and will have her completely refurbished in time for the commemorations in 2020. She was unveiled by Mystic Seaport in Connecticut this month and will make her way back to Plymouth, MA.

Peter has since travelled to America many times and the Mayflower II experience gave him more than just memories - keeping the journal inspired him to become a successful writer.

Mayflower II Diary: Sketches from a Lost Age was launched at the Brixham Heritage Museum on 7 September and is available from Amazon and selected bookshops, published by Casa Forte Publishing.

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