Eleanor’s Odyssey by Joan Druett — a Review

In 1799, Eleanor Reid was only 21 and newly married to Captain Hugh Reid, commander of the Honorable East India Company extra ship Friendship. It was her husband’s first command and he was under orders to carry a cargo of Irish convicts, the result of an Irish uprising the year before, to New South Wales. French privateers prowled the seas. The East Indies charts were rudimentary, at best, not to mention all the other perils of the sea. Nevertheless, Eleanor would join her husband on the voyage. Not only was Eleanor rather fearless, but she was also a keen observer of the life aboard ship and of the cultures of the myriad islands and ports on a voyage that will continue beyond New South Wales, through the East Indies archipelago and on to India.

Eleanor’s Odyssey: Journal of the Captain’s Wife on the East Indiaman Friendship 1799-1801 is a fascinating voyage, alternating between excerpts from Eleanor’s journal’s, and insightful and entertaining commentary by Joan Druett. Continue reading

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Captain Schettino of the Costa Concordia Guilty of Manslaughter

captainconcordiaAfter a 19 month trial, Captain Francesco Schettino has been found guilty of manslaughter associated with the grounding and sinking of the Costa Concordia in 2012 in which 32 passengers and crew died. Another 150 passengers and crew were injured. Schettino was sentenced to 16 years and one month in prison. The verdict is expected to be appealed.

In 2103, Costa Line’s cabin service director, the Costa Concordia‘s first officer, third officer and the ship’s helmsman were all convicted on various charges under a plea bargain deal in which none has served prison time. Lawyers for the plaintiffs’ lawyers were pleased with Schettino’s conviction, but have complained to the court that no one from the cruise company’s upper management was ever charged with a crime.

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J-Boat Endeavour, an Amazing Survivor of Another Age

251637I recently saw an ad titled, “Endeavour Yacht for Sale,” from a high-end yacht broker. It caught my attention because I owned, sailed and lived aboard an Endeavour 32 sloop, a few decades ago. It seemed unlikely, however, that the yachtbroker was peddling a classic plastic sailboat from the mid-70s.  And I was right.  The yacht being advertised was not an Endeavour yacht, but the yacht Endeavour, the J boat, built and sailed by Thomas Sopwith, which came close to winning the America’s Cup in 1934. The Endeavour is being offered for €19,950,000, or approximately $22,596,000. This is all rather remarkable given that the yacht was once sold for ten pounds. The yacht Endeavour has an amazing history starting with an aircraft manufacturer, moving on to an America’s Cup challenge, an appearance at Dunkirk, a near scrapping, a sinking, a rescue by the “Queen of the J class,” ownership by a corporate felon and then by a mysterious investor from Hawaii.

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Interview with V.E. Ulett by Joan Druett

Award winning author Joan Druett recently interviewed V.E. Ulett, author of the Blackwell’s Adventure series, on her World of the Written Word blog.  Reposted with permission.

The author of the rousing historical Blackwell series kindly consented to allow me to schedule an interview, to coincide with the launch of the print edition of her latest, Blackwell’s Homecoming.

J.D. What is the source of your intense interest in early nineteenth century history? Books, films, stories told in your childhood?

V.E.U. Books, books are kind of my thing. As an impressionable adolescent I read all the great nineteenth century novelists; Austen, Dickens, Thackeray, Trollope. That milieu, the social order, gender and class relationships, are deeply interesting to me. I hope I’m not a snob in my reading tastes though. I read across all genres and in all formats: ebooks, print books, audio books.

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The Hardtackers, New Video

The Hardtackers Shanty Crew put out a fine new promotional video just a week or two before the publication of my new novel, The Shantyman.  The events are unrelated but feel fortuitous. See our review of the Hardtacker’s CD, Don’t Forget Your Old Shipmates, from about a year and a half ago. The CD and the new video are both well worth a listen.

The Hardtackers

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Kalmar Nyckel Winter Sail Training

kntrainingIn January, we posted about winter crew training classes for volunteer crew on the replica ship Kalmar Nyckel.  The classes run for nine Saturdays between January and April.  At the time we didn’t ask where or how the training would take place. The announcement said only that the training would be at the “NEW maintenance and Education facility at Kalmar Nyckel Shipyard” in Wilmington, DE.   The Kalmar Nyckel Foundation recently added some photos on their Facebook page, and all we can say is “wow.” Their new maintenance and education center is quite impressive. There are not too many places where one can set square sails indoors.  The new facility has to be especially welcome in the nasty winter we are having on the East Coast this year. Congratulations to the Kalmar Nyckel Foundation on what looks like a great training facility.  Go to their Facebook page to learn more.

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The Guinea Boat by Alaric Bond — a Review

guineaboatAlaric Bond’s latest novel, The Guinea Boat, is set in the south-east of England during the brief Peace of Amiens of 1803. Two young men, Nat and Alex, meet in the coastal village of Hastings and become friends. Both are outsiders. Nat has left home seeking to make his way in the world and is a stranger in the village, whereas Alex is the son of a local Revenue officer, who died under mysterious circumstances, leaving Alex an outcast in a village which depends on smuggling as well as fishing for its livelihood. While England and France are no longer at war, no one expects the peace to last, and life in Hastings and along the coast is anything but peaceful.  Family feuds, the ongoing struggle between smugglers and the preventative men, as well as intrigues with the French, each have their own risks and dangers.

After being caught up and then unexpectedly freed from a hot press, Nat and Alex go their separate ways. Alex follows his father’s path and joins the Revenue Service, while Nat charts a more nefarious course into smuggling and free-lance espionage. The action takes place at sea, as well as on both sides of the English Channel.  Fans of Bond’s “Fighting Sail” series will not be disappointed in this fast paced tale even if the Royal Navy stays largely in port.  The smugglers prove as challenging and formidable a foe as the French.  Highly recommended.

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Captain Virginia A. Wagner and Her Continuing Legacy

102514PSNE-6566Terribly sad news.  Captain Virginia A. Wagner passed away on Friday January 30, 2015 in Newport, Rhode Island, following a courageous battle with mesothelioma cancer.  From Scuttlebutt Sailing News:

Virginia was amongst an elite sorority of professional female captains and spent much of her 28 year career in command of Traditional Sailing Vessels. Holding both a 3,000 ton USCG and MCA Ocean Master, Virginia logged over 400,000 nautical miles — and was always quick to add “most of those miles were navigated by sextant.”

Virginia possessed a natural expertise and passion for both traditional sail training and celestial navigation. Early in her career Virginia worked as mate on 135’ CORWITH CRAMER and the 125’ WESTWARD and after obtaining her captains license advanced to command the vessels 90’ OCEAN STAR, 125’ schooner GALAXY 158’ CLIPPER CITY, 140’ Schooner AMERICA replica.

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Blackwell’s Homecoming by V.E. Ulett — a Review

blackwellIn V.E. Ulett’s new novel, Blackwell’s Homecoming, Captain James Blackwell, his wife Mercedes and their family have returned to Great Britain, after an extended sojourn in the Pacific. Yet, is Britain still their home?  The family is quickly caught up in the politics of the Admiralty and the requirements of society. Captain Blackwell is called away to command a fireship in Lord Cochrane’s attack on Basque Roads, where he his seriously wounded and rescued by his son, Aloka, now a Royal Navy lieutenant.  Back in London, during a state visit by the King and Queen of Hawaii, Captain Blackwell accepts the position of British consul-general to the Sandwich Islands. The voyage back to Hawaii will prove challenging and dangerous, as well.

Blackwell’s Homecoming is the third of V.E. Ulett’s Blackwell’s Adventure series.  There is no shortage of adventure. The pacing is fast, the action dramatic and well portrayed.  The books, however, are much more than simply “adventure.”  They are a wonderful portrait of a complex family, bound by duty and driven by love. As I commented in my review of Captain Blackwell’s Prize, the first book of the series, this “is the sort of novel that readers of C.S. Forester and Patrick O’Brian can enjoy along with fans of Jane Austen and Daphne du Maurier.”  All three books of the series, while full of action, are also romances, in the very best sense of the word.  In the midst of the black powder smoke and the raging storms at sea, these are also finely drawn tales of fascinating characters, who as a reader, I ended up caring about very much indeed.  Highly recommended.

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About The Shantyman, a New Novel by Rick Spilman

shantymanthumbebookMy new novel, The Shantyman, is now available as a Kindle ebook and will soon be available in print.  The book is based on the true story of a most unusual shantyman with a troubled past.

Many years ago, I read Frederick Pease Harlow’s memoir, The Making of a Sailor, or Sea Life Aboard a Yankee Square Rigger.  In 1870, Harlow sailed on a medium clipper to Sydney, Australia. He described the new crew coming aboard the ship: “All the crew were sober but one… The man that was drunk, was dead drunk and was hoisted out of the runner’s boat in a sling…” The drunk man’s name was Brooks, who Harlow says was a “well educated man and had been a master of ships, but his appetite for whiskey was his downfall.”

It turns out that Brooks was also a skilled shantyman, who had been trying to make his way home to the United States for years. In every port, he would start to drink and end up shanghied onto a ship bound for distant shores. In Harlow’s memoir, Brooks had finally found himself on a ship bound for New York, where he had family. He intended to give up on the liquor and start his life anew.

Harlow’s Brooks became my Jack Barlow. Continue reading

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Britannia’s Shark by Antoine Vanner — Review by David Hayes

David Hayes reviews Antoine Vanner’s Britannia’s Shark on his excellent Historic Naval Fiction blog:

Britannia’s Shark by Antoine Vanner continues the adventures of Commander Nicholas Dawlish, serving in the Royal Navy as the Victorian Era draws to a close. The series so far has explored the Turkish Navy and river conflict in Paraguay and this time we move to conflict with the Finian movement for Irish independance and their involvement with John Philip Holland who invented the first practical submarine.

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New Releases From Old Salt Press

Shantymantyfinalebook1_html_m50deb550I am very excited about the new releases from Old Salt Press. They include Antione Vanner’s Britannia’s Shark, V.E. Ulett’s  Blackwell’s Homecoming, Joan Druett’s Eleanor’s Odyssey and Lady Castaways, Alaric Bond’s The Guinea Boat and my own new novel, The Shantyman, which is due to be released this week. We will be posting reviews and more information about these fine works during the week.  Read more about the new releases after the page break.
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Jon Sanders Sails Home to Perth After Ninth Circumnavigation

Photo: Gareth Owen-Conway/Robin Morritt

Photo: Gareth Owen-Conway/Robin Morritt

75 year old Australian yachtsman Jon Sanders recently sailed into Perth after finishing his ninth circumnavigation. Yes, you read that correctly — his ninth circumnavigation. Sanders is best known for his incredible voyage in 1986 – 1988 in which he circumnavigated the world three times singlehanded, non-stop without re-provisioning.  That voyage alone set something like 25 world records and no one has duplicated the voyage since. Previously, Sanders was also the first man to circumnavigate Antarctica, circling the continent twice in 1981 – 1982.

His more recent trips around the world have been primarily singlehanded, though he has had crew aboard, from time to time. He is generally happy to sail alone. “I get on well with me, I’m good,” he is quoted as saying.  When asked about what he was looking forward to coming home to, he commented “I’m sick of my cooking.”

Inveterate sailor Jon Sanders returns home to Perth after ninth circumnavigation of the globe

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Sail On: The Story of Lettie G Howard

Here is a short video by the Harbor School, a public high school located on Governors Island in New York harbor.  The school’s mission is to “provide a college-preparatory education built upon New York City’s maritime experience that instills in students the ethics of environmental stewardship and the skills associated with careers on the water.” In the video they are doing just that sailing on the Lettie G. Howard, a Fredonia schooner built in 1893 in Essex, Massachusetts.

Sail On: The Story of Lettie G Howard

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Remembering the Forgotten MV Wilhelm Gustloff

mvwgSeventy years ago today, on January 30, 1945, the German passenger liner MV Wilhelm Gustloff sank in the Baltic after being struck by three torpedoes from a Soviet submarine. An estimated 9,400 died in the sinking, making it the largest loss of life of any maritime disaster.

The ship, which was designed to carry a maximum 1,800 passengers and crew, was crammed with more than 10,000 people. In addition to the crew of 173, something over 1,500 were German soldiers fleeing the Russian advance on Gdynia. Almost 9,000 passengers were civilians, including an estimated 5,000 children.

The Wilhelm Gustloff was part of the German Navy’s Operation Hannibal an evacuation of German troops and civilians in the last days of World War II. Between 800,000 and 900,000 refugees and 350,000 German soldiers were evacuated across the Baltic Sea to Germany and German-occupied Denmark.

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Tommy Thompson, Fugitive “Ship of Gold” Treasure Hunter, Arrested


Tommy Thompson’s two years on the run has come to an end.  He was arrested yesterday in a Palm Beach, Florida hotel.  Thompson was arrested along with his longtime companion, Alison Anteiker.

In September, we posted about the continued recovery of gold, jewelry and other valuable artifacts from the wreck of the steamer SSCentral America which sank in 1857. Known as “the Ship of Gold,” the wreck of the ship beleived to be carrying between 3 and 21 tons of gold from the California gold rush, was discovered by the Columbus-America Discovery Group, led by Tommy Thompson, after a decade long search.  Thompson was sued by his investors in 2005, when they did not receive promised returns from the over $100 million of cargo recovered in the initial salvage. Thompson went into hiding in 2012 and has been sought by US Marshalls on outstanding warrants. Notwithstanding his legal and financial problems, Thompson is recognized as a gifted engineer who pioneered many modern techniques in underwater salvage.

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The Deuce, the World’s Largest Iceboat — 54 Feet of Fast

A video shot and edited by Dave Elsmo about the Deuce, the world’s largest iceboat, on Lake Mendota, in Madison, WI during the Wisconsin Stern Steerers Association Regatta. The 54′ stern-steerer speed demon built in the 1930s and rebuilt in 2006 is said to have a top recorded speed of 104 mph (90 knots.)

The Deuce: 54ft of fast

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Tall Ship Providence Blown Over in Blizzard Winds

Photo: Rocky Steeves

Photo: Rocky Steeves

The sloop Providence, a 1976 built replica of the Continental Navy sloop of the same name, was blown off her jack stands while on shore at Newport Shipyard in Newport, Rhode Island on Tuesday in blizzard conditions.  The ship was dis-masted and suffered hull damage when she fell over in winds reported to be gusting up to 60 mph. Thorpe Leeson, the sloop’s owner, reported told the Associated Press that extra supports were added beneath the ship as a precaution for the storm, but they failed in the high winds.

The Providence is a replica of a Continental Navy sloop built in 1775 and which was commanded by Abraham Whipple, John Paul Jones and John Rathbun, among others.   The Providence sank or captured 40 British ships during the war.  The replica Providence is 61′ long on deck and 110′ long overall and has a fiberglass hull.  She has appeared in a variety of roles in several movies including two of the Pirates of the Caribbean films.

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Peggy of Castletown, UK’s Oldest Yacht, to be Restored

Peggy of Castletown

Peggy of Castletown

Peggy, the oldest yacht in the UK and the oldest schooner in the world, is being restored. Sometime between 1786 and 1791, George Quayle of Castletown, on the Isle of Man, had a shallop built, which he named Peggy. A shallop is a light sailboat built for coastal fishing, as a tender, or in the case of Peggy, as a pleasure craft. According to National Historic Ships UK, she may have worked as as a cargo vessel in the Irish Sea and around Liverpool sometime between 1791-1835. There is also evidence that she may have been armed with six cannon and two stern chasers.  The shallop was also fitted with sliding keels.

Following George’s Quayle death in 1835, Peggy was put in storage in a subterranean boat shed and was largely forgotten about. One hundred years later, Emily Quayle bequeathed Peggy and the boat shed to the Isle of Man.

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Bombed Out Blizzards, Hurricanes and the Gulf Stream

Graphic: Weather.com

Graphic: Weather.com

A major blizzard is heading for the US Northeast coast today. It has been given the name Winter Storm Juno.  If the prediction models are accurate, Juno may set a new record for snowfall in metropolitan New York City.  So, it seems a good time to ask the question, “When is a blizzard like a hurricane?” The answer is, “when a blizzard bombs out in the Gulf Stream.”

Now, what does that mean?  Juno is expected to “bomb out,” which is meteorological short-hand for achieving “bombogenesis.”  That doesn’t do much to clear things up, either. Bombogenesis sounds like something from a bad science fiction movie. Bombogenisis refers to a rapid drop in the barometric pressure in a cyclodal  storm  of 24 millibars in a 24 hour period.  This still doesn’t answer the question but we are getting closer. The sudden drop in pressure causes a major intensification of the storm, which is why Juno may drop record setting amounts of snow and generate hurricane force winds.

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