It was something Margit said about Erich. As I am (or was) a sailing man, Margit thought I might be interested to meet him. Erich was a shipwright and knew some stuff about tall ships. Here in Los Cristianos, the Swedish Church has a vast horde of helpers at a level that would put English voluntary sources to shame, but we are not comparing like with like - as reminded by Petalmost - for this is not homeland but holiday land; a notion shaken off by the Swedes for this is just as good as it gets in the Swedish homeland for maybe Swedish helpers just get free holidays (sneaky remark by Petalmost). For Erich, permanently disabled by arthritis, has a wheelchair and two burly Swedish ladies in rather burly bikinis to help him get about. But his English was damn-nigh perfect and because of it the Lidbacks were rather proud of him: by comparison Sven said he felt like a donkey stabled with a horse.
"Only the pulling horse, not for riding it," says Maud, with a mock-snooty face, "you can't get Erich away from ships. I think he is made of wood our friend Erich. A wooden horse he is for pulling wooden ships along the waterway!"
"In Britain we built river barges with elm, and elm wasn't very good for sea-going ships. By the mid-sixteenth century we were desperate for decent timber. We only had few first-raters, most of our stuff was small, brigs, snows, the occasional frigate. A big ship of the line took too many oak trees, you could build four frigates with the stuff you'd need for a one-hundred gun first- rater. The thing about the small brigs was that they could be towed with sweeps in calm weather and could be laid in the right position to bring their guns to bear on the enemy."
Erich bellows with laughter. "We had the small ships for small waters. But I am much with the woodworm these days. I am better with the history. Alan, I will give you some history of ships; you may take notes," he adds professorially. At this point they break into Swedish, Maud extends a hand for comfort. There is some giggling. "These men are like boys, it's the donkey and the horse joke: The more stupid the donkey the better the horse understands him!"
Erich nods: "The same in Sweden when we take timber faster then we can grow it. In Europe by the middle of the eighteenth century there was a general shortage of timber for ship-building, so our parliament made laws to protect our woodlands, oak trees for shipbuilding and pine and spruce for masts and spars and hemp for ropes and rigging. How you English got through your wars with America and France and Spain all at the same time is a mystery for there was no timber or hemp available to repair your ships. And you built bigger ships than we did. Our ships were flat bottomed for Baltic harbours where water is so thin —"
"He means shallow," Sven explains. "Even the donkey knows that!"
Our point: "Well, we had this sort of world-wide empire, needed lots of wood for ships. Wood was just as important in those days as oil is for these days. We did have plantations for shipbuilding purposes but these were raided by housebuilders after the great Fire of London."
The earliest recorded sea battle in British waters occurred between the ruling Scottish families in 719 where the many small islands around the British perimeter sounded to victor and vanquished alike in their high-prowed longboats.
Then through the reign of William 1st around 1080 when the New Forest became a Royal Forest mainly for the hunting of deer. Within these Royal Chases peasants were evicted, houses pulled down or burned and a total of 36 parishes were emptied of inhabitants to provide the king with sport. Subsequently two of the King's sons died in the forest - Richard by some viral infection, Rufus shot through with an arrow possibly by former inhabitants who became bands of robbers preying on friends of the King - and his grandson Henry killed by hanging boughs as he rode through the forest.
"Britain is an island. You are surrounded - like the boar surrounded by hounds, and you have much hardship to carry, with no trees and nowhere for the kings to hunt. We are dashed sorry for the kings - don'cha know!"
It was during the reign of King Alfred the Great (871 to 901) that the country encountered Danish invasion forces round our coasts. and that required even more timber for shipbuilding. Under Alfred the navy expanded to counter increasing raids by Danish invaders into our estuaries and inlets. With his swift longboats each carrying a hundred men, Alfred first defeated four Danish ships in the Stour estuary in 882 and then followed his great victory over the Danes off the Essex coast and in the Thames estuary in 897.
Truly, the natural woodlands that once covered much of Britain had, by early Tudor times dwindled to a few isolated clumps of forest. Suitable timber for ship building was already at a premium. Britain had only one native conifer - the Scots pine. The Navy required these for masts and spars. As the woodlands dwindled the Navy began to rely on American oak and white pine to maintain its sailing strength. And only a few years after Blake's attempt on Santa Cruz the Navy Secretary, Mr Samuel Pepys, was expressing concern about the shrinking supply of timber for ship building purposes. Because of centuries of restriction imposed by royal sport where the monarch could hunt at will, and with only the prerogative on newly felled oak to supply the dockyards, the forests continued to shrink at an alarming rate. Oaks fed the furnaces of the glass-blowers and iron-masters, supplied house building materials and furniture. By the end of the eighteenth century, forests had shrunk to an estimated 5 per cent of Britain's total land area.
Parallel with the shortage of oak for ships' timbers ran the need for suitable pine for masts and spars, and hemp and flax for rope and sailcloth. As Erich points out, the critical features in the sea-going factor were the pine and the two rank weeds: for while oak in ships timbers lasted indefinitely, the useful life of pine masts and spars was about ten years, and the useful life of hemp and flax even less. The best quality materials came from the eastern end of the Baltic; there among the vast forests and wetlands of Sweden and Russia's coastal region came springy pine and the short strong fibres of hemp and flax. Combined they were the motive power behind the oak framed wooden warship.
"You know what: if you Nords had worked together - Danes, Dutch and Swedes - you could have closed the Baltic to us Brits."
Erich nods: "And then you had a war with America who wanted freedom from repression. Yes we could have buggered you up totally, but if we had sent timber to the British it would have risked war between us and the Russians and Danes and Dutch, so we sat down like the donkey and twiddled our thumbs."
When revolution broke out in the American colonies in 1778, a concerted diplomatic sabotage instigated by the French succeeded in rousing most of Europe against the British. The navy was distracted by the need to fight the French and the Spanish on both sides of the Atlantic and to face the Armed Neutrality of Russia, Prussia, Sweden and Denmark. Britain's navy, overstretched and underserviced, chronically short of timber, hemp and flax, was now in danger of losing Russian supplies. The revival of the Armed Neutrality along with the rising military strength of Russia caused concern amongst the British who in the 1780s spent around £500,000 a year on Baltic flax alone. Any blockade of the Baltic would thereby threaten Britain's thinly spread navy. Maintenance of sea-power was felt by their Lordships of The Admiralty to be over-reliant on foreign imports of naval raw materials. Serious attempts were made to cultivate hemp and flax in Yorkshire, Lincolnshire and Nottinghamshire. Financial incentives were offered by the government for home produced plants; but the home-grown harvest turned out to be greatly inferior to the Russian variety.
"It is your Robin Hood," Sven jokes. "He takes the hemp and makes hashish for smoking."
Oddly enough our enquiry began in Nottinghamshire where cousin George Lambert and sweet Rosemary have their charming cottage close by the Trent between Newark and Nottingham. The exact age of the place is unknown, but one of the roof purlins had a former use not connected with house building. However, we knew that all newly-felled oak of the early and middle period of our history was the perquisite of the Royal Dockyards. The feller was expected to cart the new timber to the nearest dockyard and receive in exchange timbers from ships being broken up. We think this rule applied to timber from the New Forest area. Nottingham is a long way from any naval dockyard and we could not see how anyone would willingly undertake the journey with wagon and ox team unless the penalties for ignoring the Royal Perquisite were uncommonly severe. The possibility of a local supplier of newly felled oak, or even a navy agent in Nottingham to take possession of the Sherwood oaks, occurred to us, but we left the question open at this point.
The size of the problem can be gauged by the fact that masts and spars had to be replaced regularly when the resin finally left the timber, rendering it brittle and unseaworthy. Hemp also lost its strength very quickly unless tarred which slowed the decay but also reduced its strength. Therefore it was impossible to stockpile these essential raw materials for any length of time. In addition to Russian hemp and flax, British navy ships had Baltic planking and spars, North American white pine mainmasts, Ukrainian topmasts and ships' boats. War against the American colonies had had cut off supplies of mainmasts, while the rising military strength of Russia suggested that supplies from the Baltic could be relied upon even less.
Erich points out that it was essential to distinguish new hemp rope from new bought hemp rope by untwisting the lay to ensure the fibres were dry with no signs of rot and the smell was good: "The ship's husband would know this and would prefer manilla in preference to hemp. But nowadays we have the synthetic fibres."
Britain was facing catastrophe. In the age of the sailing navy Russia was as indispensible to Britain as is the Middle East in the age of oil.
Despite our naval supremacy in the North Sea and European Atlantic in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries the threat of of a Baltic blockade continued to harass naval planners for the next hundred years. The American colonies could supply us with all the timber we needed - but at great cost, the red and white pine for the lengthy masts and smaller pine for ships' boats and internal planking of naval vessels. Baltic timber remained about a third of the price of timber from North America. What was needed was a secure source of raw materials closer to home with docking facilities available to save ships the necessity of returning to home ports for servicing. Britain had taken Gibraltar from the Spanish in 1704 and kept it by agreement after the Peace of Utrecht. Other possibilities attracted attention: Corsica with its pine forests; Malta with its splendid harbour (Malta and Gozo were annexed to the British Crown by the Treaty of Paris in 1814); and, of course, Tenerife for its dockyard at Santa Cruz, its pine and oak trees, water and stores and servicing for a strong, well-kept naval squadron.
We cannot know the private thoughts of their Lordships of the Admiralty, or the corridor politics and secret agreements which never reached the public records; however, we do know that reports of shortages of dockyard timber, canvas and cordage were causing alarm and, for want of these materials, many ships were not available for active service. It also seems highly likely that Tenerife and its massive navigational landmark of El Teide must have been a likely candidate for conquest, for it belonged to the Spanish and was thereby a legitimate target for plunder. Whether this idea ever reached the ears of the Comptroller of the Navy, Sir Charles Middleton, will never be known; however it was scotched by the Treaty of Paris in 1783, when the British were forced to recognise the United States of America and the war of Britain against France and Spain came to an end.
One imagines the covetous looks of a Master Shipwright, one eye on the thickly wooded slopes of Tenerife, the other on the signal from an incoming frigate: "Shit! yet another soddin' peace treaty!" Now their carefully crafted attack programme grinds swiftly to a halt to be converted into a message of peace and goodwill; in the meantime he'd love to take a gander at those magnificent pine forests - maybe he could get the captain to agree a shore party...?
Their Lordships were now back to square one. Conquest was definitely out of order and there was only the southern hemisphere to investigate.
Australia, New Zealand and Norfolk Island were ideal for supplying British trading vessels and naval squadrons stationed there, but too far away to supply shipyards in the Mother Country for its cheap timber would be offset by the sheer cost of transporting it, even more expensive than importing timber from North America. Worried about the ever-present danger of supplies being cut off by a revived Baltic Alliance, Sir Charles Middleton reminded the Privy Council of earlier shortages in 1781 when there were insufficient naval stores to equip a fleet to put down the American revolt; unfit vessels were put to sea with lashed-up cordage and spragged timbers and unable to withstand bad weather.
"In Sweden we have many supplies of woods," says Erich. "Pine trees grow like corn - all over, but it is the hard woods we are short of."
In May 1787 the first convoy of convict ships sailed down channel escorted by the 20 gun HMS Sirius. The convoy called first at Tenerife for fresh water and food, then to Rio de Janeiro for repairs and various purchases, then to Cape town for more provisions including live cattle, pigs and sheep. But it was Tenerife which must have caught the eye of the naval escort; it had not only fresh water, but pine trees in vast quantities and a safe harbour. What a pity Spain and Britain were no longer at war!
In that same year, 1787, Horatio Nelson married Frances Nisbet. His former command, the frigate Boreas, having been laid up, he was now on half pay of £50 per year. He was to remain ashore until 1793 when war was declared on Britain by Napoleon Bonaparte, at which time he was given command of Agamemnon, a third rater of 74 guns.
In 1794, under Admiral Lord Hood, Nelson assisted in the taking of Corsica from the French. Hood wanted Corsica as a base from which to direct operations in the Mediterranean. During this operation, at the siege of Calvi, Nelson lost the sight of his right eye.
The following year brought successful fleet actions against the French when they ventured out of Toulon, but the tide turned against the British with the collapse of Spain under the weight of French military influence; not only had Gibraltar to be evacuated, but erstwhile allies became enemies overnight, and Tenerife once more became a legitimate target.
The year 1797 started well for the British with the battle of Cape St Vincent on 14th February. Fifteen ships of the Line came upon twenty-seven Spanish. Nelson, commanding HMS Captain, with Collingwood and Troubridge following, cut the Spanish line of battle, capturing San Nicholas and San Joseph receiving the swords of both Spanish captains. For this feat of daring Nelson received a knighthood and was promoted Rear Admiral of the Blue.
Naval policy at the time relied on close engagement and rapid fire allied to close blockade of enemy ports. The capture of Tenerife would give Britain an Atlantic base from which to maintain close blockade of Cadiz without relief ships having to sail from home ports, or those in need of refit having to sail back with all the attendant risks of Biscay in bad weather and several hundred miles of enemy coastline to slip past. Tenerife could supply desperately needed timber and a convenient dockyard for repairs. From Tenerife it would be possible to prevent the French fleet from joining the Spanish in their home ports.
An additional factor bothering their lordships was the Barbary Pirates. For centuries these 'Algerines' had menaced and plundered not only the Mediterranean but also West Africa, the Atlantic coast of Portugal and Spain and even into the North and Irish seas investing coastal towns and taking the inhabitants into slavery. During the long wars occurring in the French revolutionary period, none of the European states had been able to spare forces to deal with the Algerian pirates. Curiously, it was the United States Navy which had ships and men to spare and in 1804 took punitive action when the marines launched their famous assault 'to the shores of Tripoli' but even this assault, effective as it was against the Bey of Tripoli, reducing his fortress and warships to burning hulks, did not stop the piracy and enslavement.
When Napoleon Bonaparte was exiled to Elba, clause five of the treaty with the British contained an undertaking that British naval forces would protect his place of exile and its inhabitants from the Barbary pirates. From this clause we see that the pirate menace was taken very seriously indeed.
So, in the cause of naval policy of close blockade, plus our desperate need for timber and replenishments, plus the need to protect Atlantic trade from piracy, Tenerife was ideally placed.
The events leading up to Nelson's attack on Santa Cruz are fairly clear. Following the success of Cape St Vincent, Nelson joined Admiral Jervis and his fleet on close patrol off Cadiz with orders to watch for the Viceroy of Mexico who was returning to Spain with a rich convoy. Nelson suggested to Jervis that the Viceroy and his treasure ships might have taken refuge at Santa Cruz and he submitted a scheme for embarking the British Garrison at Elba - four thousand men - for the assault. In his judgement the enterprise was mainly a military one: "I will undertake," he said, "with a very small squadron to do the naval part."
By early July 1797, Jervis heard reports of a 'rich vessel from Manila' having entered Santa Cruz. He also heard that there was no longer any great military presence there. He proposed to Nelson that a small squadron drawn from the blockade fleet might be sufficient force to seize Santa Cruz.
Nelson transferred his flag to Theseus and sailed with four ships of the line, three frigates and the dispatch cutter, Fox. By 20th July he was off Santa Cruz and, on the following day, attempted to land with all available force, ships' companies and marines, close on a thousand men. Contrary to expectations he met a greatly superior force and was unable to occupy the foreshore. Moreover, the line of battleships could not get into position to engage the shore batteries due to calms and contrary currents. Nelson had little hope of success and ordered a withdrawal. He then ordered a direct attack on the town on the night of the 24th, but in the darkness the boats were separated. Some reached the mole, where they were cut down by concentrated defensive fire. Nelson, who was leading the assault, had his right arm shattered by incoming fire and was taken back on board Theseus. Many of the boats missed the mole altogether and, in trying to get through the surf, most of these were smashed, the scaling ladders were lost, the gunpowder rendered wet and useless and the men who scrambled ashore could make no progress against the Spanish line of defence.
When day dawned about three hundred men were all that could be collected. Against them were ranged eight-thousand Spanish infantry, while every street in Santa Cruz was commanded by field guns.
Under these circumstances the senior officer under Nelson, Captain Troubridge, sent a flag of truce to the Spanish governor who allowed the British to withdraw and even provided boats to take the landed men back to their ships.
The records appear silent on the matter of 'a rich vessel from Manila.'
This boyish enthusiasm for treasure still pervaded naval minds in Nelson's time and is not really surprising in the light of past glories, a direct carry-over from the swashbuckling days of Drake and Hawkins.
What is surprising is that Jervis could respond to disinformation about a treasure ship and the absence from Santa Cruz of a defending force, believing it to the extent of detaching eight fighting ships from his already under-strength blockade fleet. That he intended to take Santa Cruz and hold it until transport vessels arrived with the British garrison from Elba is still a matter for conjecture but cannot be ignored for the benefits are too obvious. Although the quality of British fighting ships is not clearly recorded it is known that many ships lay idle in port for want of maintenance. Many that sailed did so with reduced canvas and weakened spars and prey to overtaking enemy warships. The wars against the French and Spanish were conducted with a force never superior in numbers, with ships "foul and crazy even when they put to sea and with very limited supplies of stores" (Dictionary of National Biography: Nelson, Horatio.) Nelson himself declared that when he died there would be engraved on his heart the single word "Frigate". Never in all his naval actions did he have enough of these hunters and fast fleet-messengers.
As a sop to wounded pride the British, on 1st August 1798, destroyed the French fleet at the Battle of the Nile with Nelson as second in command to Admiral Jervis. Only two French ships of the line and two frigates escaped. Napoleon had lost not only his entire fleet but more than 5,000 men and was cut off and trapped in Egypt. The re-taking of Malta from the French and Gibraltar from the Spanish brought a wave of euphoria to the population of Britain, allowing the fumbling failure of Santa Cruz to fade into the background. Santa Cruz is now chiefly remembered for the punctilious courtesy and humanity of the Spanish governor without whose consideration the officially recorded loss of 200 men might have been considerably higher.
We wonder what further attrition might have been caused to the fragile British navy if the Battle of Copenhagen, fought on 2nd April 1801, had been lost...
"Now it is for potem, yes?" - from Sven.
"Potem is not an English word. It is for 'putting off the evil moment'. We have apple horns and coffee."
Lizzie is intrigued by Swedish pastries beautifully presented. The British Navy is swept aside.
For the English, Maud is hugely tickled by the term backside, which is unexplainable: "Alan, what is this backside, please?"
"It is where you are caught bending!"
"Aha! I shall caught this man if he is drinking whiskey."
Sven is not allowed whiskey. He settles for gin and tonic. Now he tells us the story of the Swedish navy who, ten years ago, received this letter from the civil administration of the island of Visingö, in Lake Vättern, informing the navy that the timber they ordered for ship-building was now ready for collection. The order for timber was made in 1829. And now this beautiful forest of over 20,000 oak trees, no longer required for ship building, stands proudly on Visingö, a delight to residents and visitors alike. We shall see all this when we visit the Lidbacks in Stockholm next year, and by that time there may be Swedish whiskey in the house if it is true that the country is now producing its own hard stuff.
An amiable quarrel breaks out; hard to follow but it clearly indicates Maud is firmly against home produced whiskey and Sven is playing her up just for the hell of it. Erich prefers scotch and wants the island to keep its trees and not be turned into a distillery.
Maud is known as Disa, which is, I am told, a shortening of Hjordis, it bears some sort of family fondness akin to Petalmost. Swedes are renowned for having only little sense of humour but they laugh an awful lot, drawing on some sort of ribaldry that we smile at but can't fathom.
"OK. Shall we proceed?"
"OK my captain! —
There is laughter in my direction, even the Burly Bikinis are laughing.
"Swedish joke. Very rude."
Probably me being pompous and controlling - Yes, if we consider all the wars around the British coast: fleets of longboats for defence against the Danes; Robert Blake's Commonwealth Navy in 1647 sailing first against Prince Rupert's squadron at Kinsale southern Ireland, then in the first Anglo-Dutch War provoked by the British closing the English Channel against Dutch vessels. Meanwhile, in 1652 a snarling undeclared war against France resulted in destruction of a French supply convoy and then toward the end of the year Blake defeated a Dutch fleet off the Kentish Knock.
Further afield we had not only the Spice War against the Dutch but, by 1704 we were at war with France and Spain. British merchant ships travelling in convoy with naval escorts were severely harassed by French privateers operating out of Breton ports and Dunkirk. The French used gun-carrying oared galleys to attack British ports and shipping in calm weather when they could not be chased; this at a time when much of Britain's shipbuilding material was coming in from overseas.
Following the Settlement of Utrecht (1713) there was no major war until 1756 when the French were attempting to link their settlements in Canada with those on on the Mississippi. The British army acting in close accord with the navy sailed six hundred miles up the St Lawrence and, under General Wolfe, captured Quebec in 1759.
Whether nearby or further afield, naval warfare had reduced Britain to a near treeless landscape. If this were not enough to starve our already depleted navy we had two failed attempts to take Santa Cruz in Tenerife, first there was Jennings failed attack, then Nelson's subsequent and equally ridiculous attempt in 1797 only to find, as in Jennings case, the Spanish well prepared and able to throw off the British landing parties; Nelson lost his right arm in the process and retired hurt - or was it his left arm? Even Erich doesn't know; must look it up...
Where were we...? Ah, yes: Copenhagen, Battle of, 1801. We wonder what further attrition might have been caused the British navy if we'd lost this battle. By now the shortage of timber, canvas and cordage must have been so acute that vessels were extending their service life far beyond the limits required for safety at sea; unseaworthy vessels were being cannibalised, admirals and senior captains vying for the best available serviceable gear.
This battle was prompted by Tsar Paul who was now an ally of Napoleon and had revived once again the old Baltic Armed Neutrality. The British were determined to eliminate the threat of Denmark closing off the narrow entrances to the Baltic sea, the Skagerrak and Kattegat, and so Nelson was appointed second in command to Admiral Sir Hyde Parker for an expedition to eliminate this threatening Baltic Brotherhood.
The Danes in formidable strength and well positioned off Copenhagen caused havoc among the British. Three ships of Nelson's squadron ran aground and the remaining nine engaged the Danes in some considerable difficulty in the treacherous shallows: one imagines the leadsman bellowing out the dangers of rapidly shoaling water when even the hurried backing of the main courses could not prevent the momentum of an oncoming hundred-gun first-rater from hitting the bottom. Aground and in the wrong position the three ships could only stand to, cheer loudly and stand by to repel boarders.
Parker and his squadron, four miles away to the north and unable to see anything for clouds of gunsmoke, felt the battle to be lost and signalled to discontinue the action. When the signal was brought to his notice Nelson put a telescope to his blind eye and remarked that he could see no signal. The battle went to the British - but only just. It was victory snatched from the jaws of defeat.
On 22nd March 1802 peace was signed at Amiens. The Baltic once again was free to British merchant ships, supplies of timber, hemp and flax were resumed, and a frigid peace with the new United States of America allowed white pine to be imported from Maine. And these forested Canary Islands lying at anchor off the coast of North Africa were no longer of interest to their Lordships of the Admiralty...
As for the pressing plan to produce naval supplies from Norfolk Island and the Australian mainland, what started in fond hope ended in disaster. The magnificent pines which grew to a height of 170 feet with the lower trunk free of branches for the first 80 feet - an ideal feature for navy use - were quite unsuitable because of their tendency to rapid rot. The flax which grew to twice the length of its Baltic counterpart - again, an ideal feature for naval use - was difficult to work as the fibre would not easily separate from the stalk and the canvas it produced was weak and expensive. Likewise pine grown in eastern seaboards of certain South American countries had similar defects, and led to a hunt for the right kind of pine, springy and hard. It turned out that the best sort - the Scots and Norway pines - still came from their original sources, Sweden and Russia, with a fail-safe emergency supply of North American white and red pine, the Douglas Spruce, the Long Leaf and the Cuban pine.
In 1824 Baltic linseed was brought to Australia in a belated attempt to produce acceptable sailcloth and cordage. A limited success rate was recorded.
The island nation of Britain encircled, in Erich's terms, "like a boar surrounded by hounds" and later as a sea-going predator dominating the world's oceans, it is quaint to envisage the importance of the humble hemp and flax plants, how without suitable pine and spruce trees the navy would be unable to sail. The naval historian Robert G Albion makes the point that scarcity of new mainmasts and yards was one strong reason why Britain lost the war against her American colonies.
Two rank weeds and a tall pine tree will never figure prominently in any written history: they do not have the wealth-creating dominance of oil; they do not have the appeal of doubloons or pieces of eight, but without them the navy could not have protected the English Channel, Napoleon would have invaded Britain and the course of history would have been changed.
Carnival in Santa Cruz is always an interesting affair; old myths are lovingly restored, there are floats with the figure of Nelson with a telescope to his blind eye, a replica of El Tigre the shore battery cannon which is alleged to have taken off Nelson's right arm. In the words of the smart young Spanish army officer who conducted Lizzie and me around the military museum, affectionately patting the muzzle of the actual El Tigre: "Ah, Señor Mann, for this formidable Admiral Nelson, Santa Cruz is a battle he did not win."
Perhaps it's as well he didn't. If Britain had taken Tenerife from the Spanish and kept it as a naval base to protect British shipping during WW2, Mrs T would never have given it back!