Cruise ship speaker Cathy Shelbourne introduces Sir Cloudesley Shovell

Maritime heroes, brazen buccaneers, and splendid ships: Cathy Shelbourne’s series of talks on maritime heroes can be tailored to include local places, national campaigns, or anniversaries.

New for 2024: Pirates of the … Mediterranean! Meet some of the colourful characters terrorising Mediterranean waters including a female cleric turned pirate who joined the Barbarossa brothers.

  1. Food, glorious food!

As we chomp our way through gargantuan breakfasts, lovely lunches, tasty teas and delicious dinners, spare a thought for where our food originated from and how it reached us. The seafarers and circumnavigators discovering new lands brought back unknown and exotic foodstuffs – such as chocolate, pineapples, and bananas from central America, and oranges from Madeira – which not only extended our language but also had a huge influence on our palates (and our waistlines?).

  1. 54 heroes in 45 minutes

Take your pick! To accompany my talks on maritime heroes, I have created a pack of Monumental Maritime Heroes playing cards featuring maritime heroes, explorers and navigators, pirates and privateers, and ships – and the monuments to them. I invite you to pick cards from the pack, and in response, I will talk about the fascinating stories behind the characters and their monuments.

  1. A Pillar of Society? Admiral Lord Nelson and his loves and losses

Not all Nelson’s exploits ended in success. He suffered considerable disasters, and died at the Battle of Trafalgar off the coast of Spain. He was renowned for famously turning a blind eye to his commander’s instructions – but did the Establishment do the same to his numerous dalliances? We take a quick romp through Nelson’s loves and losses.

3a. Lord Nelson and his Suffolk connections

Admiral Lord Nelson was High Steward of Ipswich. But did he ever live there? Several of the women in his life had close links with Suffolk. But which ones? Discover the answers, and other surprising connections, in this talk about England’s greatest naval hero and the county bordering his birthplace.

SEA HEAR! Watch excerpts from Cathy Shelbourne’s presentation on the plot and places in The Riddle of the Sand.

  1. A Toast to William Hoste – for his part in saving the jewels of the Adriatic

What does an upmarket inn in Burnham Market, a cricket club off the coast of Croatia, and the Venetian city of Cattaro have in common? The answer is Sir William Hoste, a Norfolk boy who became a protégé of Admiral Nelson and went on to courageously command ships in the Napoleonic Wars.

  1. Admiral Broke and the 15 minute battle that changed the course of history

His name lives on in a housing estate and a primary school, and even on the swimming pool of his old school, yet few people have heard of Captain Philip Broke, whose heroic actions changed the course of the last war between the USA and Great Britain.

  1. B is for Bligh

… and the Captain’s ship Bounty, his wife Betsy, and the famous breadfruit for which Captain Bligh voyaged to Tahiti. Add in another B, for Brando, Marlon, who starred as Fletcher Christian in one of the most famous films of the mutiny, and you have a cocktail which continues to stir up strife in the South Seas even today. Prepare to re-consider the much-maligned Captain!

  1. Around the world in 80 days – or more …

The first ever recorded circumnavigation was led by the Portuguese Ferdinand Magellan and completed by the Basque Juan Sebastian Elkano in 1522. Who sailed in their wake? Step forward Englishmen Francis Drake and Thomas Cavendish, both regarded by the Spanish as pirates, and by Queen Elizabeth 1 as loyal contributors to her coffers.

  1. The Age of Discovery – in a nutshell

Portuguese explorers were at the forefront of the Age of Discovery, opening up trade routes and bringing back exotic spices and fabulous tales. But whose hand was really on the rudder? Discover more about the people and politics behind seafarers such as Magellan and Vasco da Gama.

  1. Thomas Cavendish: navigator who wasn’t averse to a bit of piracy too

He sailed round the world not once, but twice, and was rewarded by Queen Elizabeth 1. But was he a revered privateer – or a fearless pirate? This presentation follows Thomas Cavendish on his extraordinary voyages of discovery nearly five hundred years ago, and looks at how his fabulous stories influenced so many others.

  1. William Dampier: circumnavigator extraordinaire

Described by Coleridge as ‘a man of exquisite mind,’ William Dampier’s enquiring nature took him round the world three times, resulting in the highly influential travel book A New Voyage Around The World, and scientific treatises and descriptions of natural history. His books inspired Charles Darwin, Jonathan Swift, Daniel Defoe and Captain Cook – and they were required reading for Nelson’s officers. But he too was a highly successful pirate, as the Spanish knew to their cost.

  1. Sir Cloudesley Shovell’s shipwreck and his impact on longitude

His achievements were as impressive as his name. Sir Cloudesley was the greatest admiral in Stuart times. But his ignominious end, shipwrecked on the shores of the Scilly Isles, led to the establishment of the Longitude Act and the ability of sailors – and cruise ship captains – to pinpoint exactly where we are at all times!

  1. In the wake of The Mayflower

Over 25 million of us apparently are descended from those who set sail from Plymouth in 1620 on board the Mayflower, bound for a new life in the New World. In the wake of the 400th anniversary, we look at the voyage itself, the expedition’s legacy, and the celebrations.

12a. In the wake of The Mayflower – from an East Anglian perspective

Where was The Mayflower built? Where did the passengers come from? Are you one of their descendants? Prepare to have your preconceptions challenged!

  1. Pirates of the Caribbean!

Nearly 2,500 men – and a few women – were engaged in piracy in the Caribbean between the 1500s and the 1830s. As these brazen buccaneers rampaged around the islands what were their home countries doing about them? What brought about their demise? And why are we still entranced by their dastardly deeds? (Think Johnny Depp…)

  1. Cutty Sark: heroine of the seas

One of the fastest tea clippers in the world, the Cutty Sark was built on the Clyde in 1869, and sailed to and from every major port, carrying tea and wool. Her longest serving Master was Captain Woodget, an accomplished photographer and keen cyclist (even on board). Despite her strange name and extraordinary career, this indomitable heroine lives on – as a much-loved museum ship at Greenwich.

15. The Riddle of the Sands

Maritime historian Cathy Shelbourne and writer Erskine Childers share a common ancestor. In this talk, Cathy unravels the Childers family tree and traces Erskine’s career from sailor to spy to author of one of the most famous sailing stories of all time, The Riddle of the Sands, set in the shifting sands of the German Frisian Islands before the outbreak of the First World War.

16. Pirates of the Mediterranean!

For centuries, the Barbary Pirates attacked ships and raided coastal towns along the Mediterranean, condemning thousands to the misery of slavery. Find out who stood up to them, why the Barbary threat led to the founding of the US Navy, and how a female cleric turned pirate from Granada joined forces with the notorious Barbarossa brothers!


“We have enjoyed two presentations from Cathy.  Her talk, via Zoom, commemorating the 400th anniversary of The Mayflower was well received and greatly enhanced our visit to Harwich.  Her lively talk in Aldeburgh on Thomas Cavendish and the 500th anniversary of the Magellan/Elcano circumnavigation was well researched and had us sniffing spices, answering quizzes, and sharing reminscences……”

- Aldeburgh and District Local History Society, March 2022

“We were very impressed by your knowledge of Sir Cloudsley Shovell and your excellent slides added to our enjoyment and understanding. We had one of the largest audiences we have had for a Zoom talk.”

- Hawkhurst U3A, November 2020

“Cathy is a professional and experienced speaker, and it showed … She knows her subject inside out, fielded our searching questions with aplomb, and gave us a dose of culture and history that well complemented our more usual fare of modern-day maritime exploits and yarns. … A very well-received, enjoyable and illuminating talk!”
- Chipping Norton Yacht Club, June 2018

Cathy can be booked through SpeakerNet, and for cruises through the Peel Agency.

For bookings from groups such as WIs, sailing clubs, and social organisations please contact Sea Shell Communications on 07764 212451 or

Cathy is the guest maritime historian this Spring on board Cunard’s Queen Victoria, sailing from Rome around the Mediterranean and Adriatic. Later in the summer she will be sailing with P&O from the Canaries. In December she will be joining the newest ship in the Cunard fleet, Queen Anne, with her talks on The Riddle of the Sands.

Highlights of last year’s speaking assignments included sailing through the Caribbean (in the wake of many of her pirates and explorers), through the Panama Canal, and up to San Francisco; and cruising from Oman to Sri Lanka and Singapore.

“Your talks were for me the highlights of the cruise … truly a delight.”
 – guest on board Spirit of Discovery

Closer to home, Cathy looks forward to meeting members of groups in Kesgrave, Maldon, Aston Clinton, Thetford, March, Debenham,  Felixstowe, Chelmondiston, Watford, Lavenham, Woolverstone, Boreham, Capel St Mary, Sudbury, Ipswich, Bishops Stortford, and Royston!

An illustration from Dampier’s highly influential travel book A New Voyage Around The World