Under Sail : A Boy’s Voyage Around Cape Horn by Felix Reisenberg – A Review

Under Sail is a remarkable account of sixteen year old Felix Riesenberg’s first voyage on a square rigger from South Street Seaport in New York, to Honolulu and back. He sailed on the A.J. Fuller, a Bath built, copper clad, wooden hulled, three skysail yard medium clipper in the waning days of the age of sail.

Riesenberg’s prose is clear and concise yet vivid. He captures the both the beauty and the hardship of windjammer sailing, as well as the often complicated personalities of his shipmates. He sat down to write Under Sail in his mid-thirties, having served both as officer and able seaman. What makes Under Sail so engaging is that Reisenberg’s views are nuanced. He understands and sympathizes with those on both sides of the mast. He knows, first hand, the nearly impossible demands made on the captain and mates as well as the hardships suffered by the able seamen.

Under Sail ends with the A.J. Fuller‘s successful return to New York after loading and discharge in Hawaii and the rounding of for the second time of Cape Horn. What should be a joyous homecoming is bittersweet as most of the sailors are snapped up by boarding house runners and crimps even before they leave the ship. It is clear that after a few drunken weeks ashore most will have their pockets emptied and will return to sea as the penniless sailors we met at the beginning of the book.

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