Historic dockyard stops to ‘rum-ember’ a top Royal Navy tipple

Isle of Wight Distillery launched their HMS Victory Rum on board HMS Victory for Black Tot Day. From left: Millie Bennison, Martin Jakeman, Xavier Baker from the Isle of Wight Distillery, Daniel McCrohon and John Faulkner     Picture: Sarah Standing (180583-302)
Isle of Wight Distillery launched their HMS Victory Rum on board HMS Victory for Black Tot Day. From left: Millie Bennison, Martin Jakeman, Xavier Baker from the Isle of Wight Distillery, Daniel McCrohon and John Faulkner Picture: Sarah Standing (180583-302)
Promoted by National Museum of the Royal Navy

CALLS of ‘up spirits’ echoed out across the deck of an historic warship as old salts and maritime lovers united to mark a beloved Royal Navy tradition.

Dozens of people gathered on HMS Victory to slurp down a shot of rum to mark the 48th anniversary of Black Tot Day.

It was the latest toast to be staged in Portsmouth to commemorate the last official rum ration issued to sailors way back on July 31, 1970 – the poignant end of a 300-year tradition.

And in true spirit of the day, all those joining the celebration were able to take a ‘tot’ from a new rum being launched specifically to help fund the restoration of HMS Victory.

Known as HMS Victory Navy Strength Rum, the new booze came packing a kick and is produced by the The Isle of Wight Distillery.

Xavier Baker, co-founder of the distillery, said it was an honour to launch the new rum on a day so steeped in naval history.

The launch comes off the back of the HMS Victory Navy Strength Gin, which was launched in 2015.

He said: ‘We’re hugely proud to further our relationship with the National Museum of the Royal Navy following on from the success of the HMS Victory gin.

‘We have worked with the National Museum of the Royal Navy to try and recreate the true style of rum that was used back in the day.

‘So it’s a blend from Guyana, Trinidad and Jamaica. It’s a rich blend of  aged demerara rum. And at 57 per cent, it’s gunpowder-proof, so if your gunpowder did get wet, this rum would still ignite.

‘We wanted to bring a bit of naval history back to life. So it’s a huge privilege to launch it on Black Tot Day.’

Rum rations were introduced into the navy in 1655 as a substitute for beer, it was in general use by 1731.

Sailors would get one eighth of a pint of rum, watered down with two measures of water. Retired chief engineer Frank Fowler celebrated the day and said: ‘It was definitely a sad day when we lost the tot but it had to happen, the way the navy was moving forward technologically.

‘You were having guys in charge of millions of pounds worth of machinery, weapons systems and reactors – if you sat on the mess and got three of those down you it opens up no ends of thoughts of what could go wrong.’

Pat Arnold, from Bridgend in Wales, was with grandchildren Alfie, 10, and Tia, nine. She enjoyed a small tot and said: ‘It was lovely to be a part of the tradition.’