The Way of a Ship: A Square-Rigger Voyage in the Last Days of Sail
3 journalers for this copy...
The spark that drove Lundy to write this book is a simple (and perhaps unanswerable) question: how were his great-great-uncle and men like him able to challenge Cape Horn? Even with the strong iron hulls and wire rigging of the 1880's, Cape Horn killed men and ships with a regularity that would dismay the modern world. And if wind and wave were not enemies enough, then inadequate food, terrible living conditions, and hard-driving captains and mates would supply sufficient misery to seemingly make any rational man balk from voluntarily undertaking such a voyage. Of course, not all the seaman aboard were willing volunteers, dockside "crimps" if necessary supplied the required number of drugged and drunken men to fill the meager crew rosters permitted by penny-pinching owners. No records other than family stories and a few old letters survive to chronicle Benjamin Lundy's actual experiences or even to name the ships he sailed on, so his great-great-nephew to better understand the man and others of his ilk decided to reconstruct what his first ocean-crossing voyage might have been like, aboard a square-rigger carrying coal from England to Valpariso, Chile. Coal might seem at first thought an innocuous enough cargo, but in fact it was not. Coal, especially damp coal, often ignited by spontaneous combustion during these lengthy voyages and sometimes even exploded. Very probably quite a few of those big sailing merchantmen that mysteriously vanished at sea were victims of such slow, secret heating, deep in their black holds. Although the young Ulsterman Lundy is a veteran of the coastal trade, the challenges of working such a deep-sea merchantmen were beyond both his experience and his imagination. Derek Lundy crafted his story after intensive research that stretched to include sailing some of the same waters himself, although the author confesses a disappointed relief in not encountering a real gale off Cape Horn.
Between the fiction chapters, Lundy delves into the history of rounding Cape Horn going back to the days of Raleigh and Anson, and of the struggle against a foe even more deadly than the Cape itself: scurvy. He also explores that strange age of transition in the late Nineteenth Century when long distance bulk cargo sailing ships were still battling against the steamers that had already come to dominate shorter routes and the passenger business. Iron (and, later, steel) hulls made possible sailing vessels of a size previously unachievable, so large that even the traditional three masts of ships had to multiply in order to carry sufficient canvas. Merely increasing the size of individual masts and sails proved impractical. As masts grew taller and yards wider, the proportionately larger sails became too hard for the crews to handle. Topsails and topgallantsails were split horizontally into separate upper and lower halves with their own yards, creating the wide but shallow sails so characteristic of photographs of the big merchantmen of this time.
This combination of maritime history and nautical fiction makes for compelling, insightful reading. Lundy well conveys the misery, the fear, the fatigue, the excitement, and even the occasional exhilaration of an experience that would otherwise lie beyond the boundaries of our own lives. [368 pages]
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This review is from: The Way of a Ship: A Square-Rigger Voyage in the Last Days of Sail
"Them was the days, sonnies,
"Them was the men,
"Them was the ships,
"As we'll never see again."
(From the book)
This book is the author's imagined account of his grand-uncle's voyage as a crewman on the "Beara Head," a four-masted barque sailing around Cape Horn from Liverpool to Varparaiso, South America, in the 1880's. The author creates an engaging narrative of characters and things that may or may not have happened on the voyage, based on log information and what is known about the trip. Interspersed are chapters with general background material on the ships, history, and difficulties of the time.
I found this a very engaging read. The life of a seaman in those days was truly harsh, a life of constant misery and hardship. The men live on short rations, long hours, little or no sleep, constant cold and damp, battling storm after storm, climbing up in the masts 160 feet above the rolling deck to deal with canvas sails weighing hundreds of pounds. Some men get their fingernails pulled out, some fall to their deaths in the sea, never to be seen again, and some live on to see the next port and another voyage.
If you are interested in sailing ships and stories of the sea, you will like this book. I'm not that interested in ships and still found it interesting.
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Enjoy! To LittleWhiteBird as a RABCK for the November 2009 RABCK challenge, The "The" release challenge.
The beginning was very interesting. I hope I still find a way to fix this.
So I finished listening to the whole story. Although I was still confused by all the sailing terms at the end that the author did explain in the beginning (if I recall correctly from a few months ago), it was interesting to listen to. The imagined story of Benjamin's voyage was the most fascinating. It conveyed the danger and hardship as well as why someone still might be fascinated by this way of life.