The National Maritime Museum Cornwall plays host to some of Britain’s most famous boating history, along with artifacts that date back to the 1800s

From extraordinary sailors to tales of survival and smuggling on the high seas, these wonderful objects from the National Maritime Museum Cornwall tell a potted history of life on the waves.

Royal Mail postal bag
Although the origins of the Royal Mail date before 1635, it was only in the 17th Century that Falmouth became famous for its role in sending post all over the world.

Post was sent via Packet ships from Falmouth until 1851. They were responsible for taking letters, official dispatches, news and bullion to pay troops all over the globe.

This mail bag was used on the packet ship, HMS Crane – one of the last packets to continue to carry mail after much of the service was taken over by the Royal Navy in 1823 and the Royal Steam Packet from 1840. This is one of the original hand sewn canvas mail bags used on the Crane. This letter was carried by the Crane and written and posted on 13 November 1849 from Rio de Janeiro, arriving in Falmouth in 1850.

Smuggler’s Flintlock pistol
This pistol dates from around 1810 and is typical of the sort used by Revenue Officers to defend themselves against armed smuggling gangs. Revenue officers were based at Custom Houses, which were situated in port towns like Fowey, Falmouth, Penzance and Newquay. They worked for the Government, originally for the Board of Customs, which was constituted in the mid-17th century.

There were various ranks, positions and jobs both land-based and sea-based. Some were administrative customs or excise officers, and others were on patrol. The patrolling branch was originally called the Waterguard but by the early 1800s the Coastguard was established as a permanent patrol. Today, these jobs are done by the UK Border Force Agency under the authority of the Home Office.

Safety catches were developed to prevent accidental firing. In coastal areas brass-barrelled pistols were favoured because they were more resistant to rust.

This item is part of the museum’s smuggler exhibition, which runs until 6 July 2014.

Ben Ainslie’s Olympic Finn dinghy
Ben Ainslie is now the world’s most successful sailor, having won five Olympic medals along with his spectacular victory in the 2013 America’s Cup. Cornwall’s Maritime Museum has his Finn dinghy from the 2012 Olympics on display.

Ainslie also used this Finn when he competed in the Athens 2004 and Beijing 2008 Olympics. The Finn dinghy has been used in every Olympic Games since Rickard Sarby created it in 1949.

Ben’s Finn is 4.5m in length and weighs 125kg.

Watch YBW’s exclusive video interview with Ben Ainslie at the London Boat Show 2014.

Mirror dinghy No.1
Eileen was the first Mirror dinghy ever built in 1963, the result of a collaboration between one of the first do-it-yourself TV personalities, Barry Bucknell, and the pioneering dinghy designer Jack Holt.

Holt’s plywood designs took sailing out of the yacht clubs and into the hands of a new breed of sailing enthusiast. It was available in a build-your-own kit for just £63.11s – and at 3.3m in length it could fit onto the roof of a car making it inexpensive and practical for the amateur sailor.

The Mirror – named after the red top newspaper – was a runaway success with 70,000 built and sailed all around the world including in Australia, Canada, South Africa, the Philippines and the United States.

Concealment book
This leather bound book (Jours de l’Annee) was hollowed out to create an ideal hiding place for small illicit goods. This particular book was used by smugglers circa 1801.

Both this and the Flintlock pistol have been lent to the museum by the Border Force National Museum.

Optimist dinghy No.25
The optimist dinghy was designed in America and became the largest sailing class in the world. Great for youngsters to learn how to sail, this boat was stable and easy to handle.

In 1973 the class received international recognition and the Royal Yachting Association adopted the boat as their introductory single-hander for training and racing.

The 25th Optimist ever built is on display at the National Maritime Museum Cornwall.

Adrift for 38 days
In 1972 four adults and two children were left stranded in the middle of the ocean after their 43ft schooner was severely damaged by three killer whales. With three large holes in the wooden hull, their yacht sank in a minute.

All six of them crammed into the small life raft they had onboard with only a bag of onions, a few oranges and a kitchen knife. Rigging the boat with a piece of sail, they used it to tow them towards the Doldrums. For the next five and a half weeks the group were working constantly to keep their raft afloat, catching rainwater and fishing.

On the 17th day the floor gave way, forcing them to move to the open dinghy. They spent the next 21 days dealing with testing conditions as they suffered from severe hunger and dehydration. After 38 days adrift, they were rescued by a Japanese fishing vessel.

Falmouth Quay Punt – Curlew
This beautiful Falmouth Quay Punt, Curlew, is part of the museum’s beautifal boat collection.

Built by R S Burt in 1905, this vessel started life as a working boat. In 1936 she was converted for use as a leisure boat and has travelled thousands of miles from the Arctic Circle to the mainland of Antarctica.

In 1963 polar explorers Tim and Pauline Carr undertook an extensive restoration of Curlew and then used her to circumnavigate the globe, despite the lack of an engine and many home comforts that we’d expect on a modern liveabord. The Carrs donated her to the National Maritime Museum Cornwall in 2003.

Wayfarer Wanderer
Built in 1958, this wayfarer was owned by Frank and Margaret Dye. She made a 650-mile passage in 1963 from Kinlochbervie in Scotland, to Iceland. The following year she made a voyage to Norway, almost reaching the Arctic Circle.

The couple spent several years cruising in a number of wayfarers, demonstrating that it was possible to live aboard a small dinghy even in extreme conditions. Wanderer was built in 1958 and is 4.85m in length.

Visit National Maritime Museum Cornwall to find out more about all of Britain’s history at sea.