The sun was high up already. Close to zenith and the day like so many in the Caribbean – hot. On a mellow north-easterly breeze we sat down on deck and ate some cheese. A heady cheese with apple cuts.
In leisurely speed we were moving towards a big rock. Just the right pace to give me enough time to really admire both rock, mainland and the passage in between.
That rock was in the literature I am writing about today called a Gruyère, the cheese you know.
At first sight I didn’t make that parable, but true when I think about its holey surface.
Cheesy similarities or not, this steep rather small and sharp-looking mountain shoots 175 meters of rugged rock straight out of the sea and is a remarkable sight indeed.
What makes it even more so has to do with seamanship. Earlier I had with interest read the astonishing and amusing maritime history of this piece of rock. To sail past it was something that I was looking forward to.
So, the story in short. The french and the brits wasn’t so fond of each other, for quite a while. In the Caribbean they were fighting on, around and about the islands. Martinique was (still is) French and the first landfall for the french supply ships from the continent.
A blockade of Fort-de-France (originally named Fort Royal) capital and main port on Martinique, would therefore strike the Frenchies hard, all over the Caribbean. The brits of course doing everything they could to keep this blockade up, but one guy did a little more than that.
In 1804 Commodore Samuel Hood, who at the time was responsible for blockading the French in Martinique, reported to the admiralty that he had taken possession of Diamond Rock (Rocher du Diamant).
“I think it will completely blockade the coast in most perfect security”, reported Hood after landing sailors and 5 cannons, three 24-pounders and two 18-pounders.
Unfortunately he gave the admiralty very few details of how he put the 24-pounder guns to the top – but it was seamanship of epic proportions.
The garrison held the rock for seventeen months and the episode has become one of the legends of the Royal navy in the Caribbean.
The rock was by Hood commissioned as a sloop and was called, HMS Diamond Rock.
Apparently the island is still regarded by the Royal Navy as still being in commission and HM ships are required, when passing, to show due respect (Personnel on the upper deck to stand at attention and face the Rock whilst the Bridge salutes.)
The french had a hard time with the brits, from their elevated position, blockading Morne du Diamant, the passage between rock and mainland and entrance to Fort du France. There is a story how the french launched an attack on the rock and managed to put a landing party on the rock, which finally captured it.
There is also another story about how the french after a series of unsuccessful attempts to capture the island came up with a brilliant idea. According to the story, they wrecked a ship full of rum on the Diamond. The next morning little effort was made to evict the unwanted neighbors.
Another guy who sailed past the rock and was fascinated by Hoods feat is author Mr. Dudley Pope. He understood what kind of great seamanship that must have been practiced here, something I without much response tried to explain to some of my shipmates.
For Pope this ended up in a book, “Ramage’s Diamond”. The adventures in the book “bear out the adage that truth is stranger than fiction”, he says. Indeed.
My wife picked up the book by coincidence in a free library/sailor book exchange in Bermuda and I spent some days on the crossing reading it.
It’s a pretty neat naval fiction book with some seriously sneaky and gutsy operations that offers a fine fest in seamanship craziness, not even including the Diamond-op, which of course is the corner-stone of the story, but Pope uses it nicely to spin on and developing it all to a sparkling grand finale.
It’s written by a British naval freak and sometimes get a little over the top, but what the hey, it’s good entertainment. Well worth reading.