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Bristol Channel Pilot Cutter

The National Maritime Museum

Britain – a small island off the Northern Coast of Europe, but for centuries the most powerful and wealthiest nation on earth. So how did this tiny country come to be the policeman and banker to the world, trading with countries and colonies from the South Atlantic, through to Africa, Asia and Australia?
The answer lies in the sea that surrounds us. Or more precisely Britain’s ability to stretch its influence beyond these shores and reach out to the world. Without seafarers and the boats that bore them, British history would look entirely different. The history of Britain is the history of the sea, and the boats that rode those waves.

This is the story of six of the most significant of these boats and their part in that history – told by a man who has lived his life afloat: Tom Cunliffe, writer, historian, adventurer. Drawn from over 500 years of British history these six boats tell the story of Britain – a history of exploration, empire, industry and ultimately a fight for Britain’s very survival.

Dan Matthews, Exhibitions Manager at the National Maritime Museum, says: "The Boats That Made Britain offers an excellent opportunity to look at Britain's relationship with the sea through six iconic vessels. The boats that enabled us to explore the oceans, earn our living from the sea and ply our trade are a key part of our history. We are particularly excited about this exhibition and the BBC's Sea Season as it touches on so many aspects of Britain's maritime past and present and links to many of the subjects that are at the heart of the National Maritime Museum."

A talk by Tom Cunliffe will take place at the Museum on the 24th June entitled The British Shipping Industry and the Role of Pilot Cutters - The race between Bristol Channel pilot cutters Olga and Cariad. For information and tickets visit the National Maritime Museums Website.

In May, Bristol Channel Pilot Cutters, Olga and Cariad will appear in BBC Four's 'The Boats That Made Britain', a six-part voyage through the history of British seafaring, putting the boats that made Britain great through their paces. Alongside the BBC's celebration of the sea, the National Maritime Museum has arranged an exhibition to accompany The Boats That Made Britain series.

Paimpol July 2009

The Boats That Made Britain

Tom Cunliffe

“If you want to understand Britain’s history, you need to understand the boats that made her….”