- Shopping Bag ( 0 items )
From the Publisher"Enthralling!"--The Guardian
"An extraordinary explorer." --The Independent
"An extraordinary explorer." --The Independent
I looked at my crew and wondered if they appreciated the situation. George, I knew, was well aware of the danger. He was one of the best sailors I knew, and we had sailed many miles together on small boats. For that reason he now held the job of sailing master on Brendan, the man responsible for getting the very best performance from the boat under sail. Rolf, too, knew the risks. He was from Norway and normally spent his summers exploring his country's coastline in a massive sailing boat built at the end of the last century. But Peter, the cameraman of our team, worried me. Not so long ago, Peter had sailed single-handed from England to Greece in his own boat, and so he was no stranger to the sea. But now he was looking very glum. Partly, I suspected, he was concerned about our situation; but even more he was feeling the pain from damaged muscles that he had strained two days previously as we were rowing Brendan. Now his face had a grey look, and clearly he was very uncomfortable as he tossed about with the constant motion of the boat.
Arthur, the youngest member of the crew, was totally oblivious to any danger, for the very good reason that he was laid low by seasickness. Rarely had I seen anyone so miserable. Brendan had a most peculiar sea motion, more like a life raft than a conventional vessel. She heaved and swayed, then bobbed, swayed, and heaved while Arthur curled up in misery. His eyes screwed tight shut, his body slumped under the gunwale, every now and again a burst of spray swept over him, running down his face and dripping off his oilskins. Only when his turn came to go on watch did Arthur take an interest in his surroundings. With a visible effort of self-discipline he hauled himself into a sitting position, clipped on his lifeline, and dragged himself to the helm. Secretly I applauded the effort of will power, but it was obvious that only three men from a total crew of five were in a fit state to handle Brendan if the gale picked up.
One difficulty was that it was almost impossible to get any rest between watches. Brendan was essentially an open boat, swept by the spray and the wind. Just behind the stubby mainmast was a low tent-like structure with room for three men to lie down, head to tail like sardines. But here we also had to find space for our spare clothes, our cameras, and sleeping bags, and all the navigation equipment. Besides, whenever a wave broke over the stern, it had the nasty habit of sweeping forward and dropping a thick dollop of water right into the shelter. Farther forward by the short foremast there was another small tent, not much larger than a good-sized kennel. Here the two other crew members were expected to sleep, but there the leaks were even worse. Each time a wave broke against Brendan's bow, it sent a fountain of cold water squirting up under the tent flap and thoroughly doused the occupants.
When my turn at the helm was over, I crawled into my berth in the main shelter, wedged myself into position, and lay there worrying: Our voyage had started barely a week ago and already we were taking a hammering, which I was not sure the boat could stand. Where I lay in my sleeping bag with my feet and head touching the bulkheads under the thwarts, I could feel them shifting as the boat rose and fell with the waves. What disturbed me was that the bulkheads were shifting in opposite directions. It was uncanny. The boat was like an animal, perhaps a whale, and I was lying inside its ribs like Jonah and feeling the boat change her shape to meet the enormous pressures of the sea. All around I could hear creaks and groans from the wood and the leather. The stresses and strains were colossal. The sides of the boat pumped gently in and out as though the Brendan were breathing. I tried to think rationally, remembering the theory that the boats of the Vikings had been built on exactly the same principle. It was said that they had flexed with the sea and so had sailed faster. But the Vikings built their boats of timber, and no one knew if leather could stand up to the same sort of treatment. How long could Brendan's structure hold together? There was no way of telling. And it was little comfort to remember that this was precisely why we were out in Brendan, hoping to discover the truth by practical experiment.
I closed my eyes, and immediately my sense of balance told me that the sea had become worse. I could feel Brendan being overtaken by a wave group of three. The first wave swelled up, and it seemed ages as Brendan climbed its face, lifting up and up in apparent slow motion as if she would never clear the top. Then came the agonizing pause as she teetered- on the brink, half the length of her hull poking out over the face of the wave, suspended in the air as if she would snap in half. Finally there came the slithering surf ride, caught helplessly in the tumbling crest, with the helmsman fighting to maintain control and Brendan heading downwind, and the log went spinning madly up to its maximum reading of twelve knots. After what seemed an age, the main body of the wave swept on, released Brendan, and casually dropped her into the trough behind it, only to be picked up and hurled like a tormented plaything through the whole process again and again by the second and third outsize waves.
Once, when George was at the helm, a wave crest caught Brendan and without warning spun her back to front. "Help! Help! We are sailing backwards!" George roared. Peter and I bolted out of the cabin. Lightly dressed, we were quickly soaked to the skin, but we had to bring the headsail under control. We swarmed forward to where the sail was pinned against the mast by the force of the gale, and with brute strength wrestled it around again. With a soggy thud the sail bellied out, and began to pull Brendan out of trouble. Slowly, very slowly, the boat wheeled away downwind, and for two aching wave-lengths we watched and waited as the vulnerable side of our leather craft was exposed to the rollers. But they swept under us without doing any harm, and we went careening onward.
Night came. A foul, black night complete with driving rain that reduced visibility to a few yards, broken only by the flashing white manes of the breakers and distant flares of lightning. As I returned to my sleeping place, my tired mind failed to register when Peter, who had taken over the helm, remarked that he thought he glimpsed ship's lights, no more than tiny pinpricks a long way off to port. I mumbled to him to keep an eye on them and to call me if they came any closer. Then I crawled into my sleeping bag and closed my eyes, feeling utterly limp.
ìJesus Christ! Where the hell did that come from!" Peter's gasp woke me instantly. Something was wrong. In a mad scramble I tumbled out of the shelter, and found Peter heaving desperately on the tiller. Rolf, the rain trickling down his glasses, was gaping into the night. There, less than a hundred yards away, and with all her lights blazing, was a large factory trawler bearing straight down on us. Her bows were sending up huge bursts of spray as she slammed down on the waves, and she was pitching and rolling wickedly. It was impossible that she could have seen us in the murk. Later I was to find out that Brendan's leather hull was nearly invisible to radar scanners, while our metal radar reflector was blotted out by heavy seas. In effect, Brendan was invisible to the other vessel.
"Light a white flare!" I yelled at Peter. "Light a flare!"
"What about shining a torch on the sails?" asked Rolf.
"No good," I bellowed above the shriek of the wind. "Our sail isn't big enough to work as a light reflector. Besides, it's made of leather and won't reflect the light efficiently."
But it was already too late. Someone found a white flare from the emergency kit, but fingers were too cold and stiff to unwrap the tape and strike it before the ship was heaving down on us. Peter struggled with the helm, trying to turn Brendan away, but the wind had locked us on what seemed to be a collision course. Then the factory trawler's streaming black hull slid past us so close that we could make out the welding on the steel hull plates that towered over us. The lights from her portholes, though they penetrated only a few yards in that blackness, swept over us as we stood aghast looking up at the high side rolling over us. Then we were level with the trawler's stern, and so close that as she swung her stern toward us it felt as if the Brendan would be sucked up the great stern ramp where they hauled their fishing nets. Brendan was dwarfed.
"Hang on! We'll be in the propeller wash in a moment." The water boiled white around us from the trawler's screws, and then she was gone, swallowed up in the raging gale, and totally unaware that she had nearly run us down. How ironic, I thought to myself, that our greatest danger should be from Man, not from Nature, a risk that Saint Brendan never had to face. I doubted that anyone aboard the trawler had even seen us. If they had, what would the lookout say to the trawler's skipper? That he had seen a boat from another century running wildly before the gale with a square sail bearing the Celtic cross in crimson and steered by five desperate-looking men in sodden clothing? Any watch-keeper who reported that sight to his captain on a night in the Atlantic was liable to be dismissed for drunkenness or sent to a psychiatrist.
By dawn the wind rose to its worst, just short of storm force, tearing the tops off the waves. Rain and spray driven almost horizontally kept us pumping the Brendan every watch, five hundred strokes of the bilge pump to keep her from getting sluggish. The ropes holding the sail were in shreds. They were made of flax, as they could have been in Saint Brendan's day, and there was something wrong with them. Every time two ropes touched, they cut into one another, frayed in a few seconds, and snapped. Again and again someone-usually Rolf-had to go forward, clinging precariously to the heaving bows, and rerig new ropes to keep the sail and the boat under control. My chart case was ripped open by the wind, and a few seconds later a breaking wave reduced the chart to mush. The only consolation was that the gale had long since blown us off the limits of the chart, and it was of little use to us anyway. Brendan was rushing madly farther and farther out to sea. To slow her down we streamed a heavy rope in a loop from the stern and let it trail in the water behind us to act as a brake, and, hopefully, to smooth the worst of the wave crests. From the stern also dangled a metal bucket; only twenty-four hours earlier we had been using it to cook an excellent meal of Irish crabs. Now it clanked mournfully every time a wave broke against it. Arthur, poor fellow, looked like a dead sheep clad in garish foul-weather trousers. His hood had blown off, and his hair was plastered down on his scalp. The inside of the main shelter was a shambles of camera lenses, pilot books, sodden clothing, and wet paraphernalia. There Peter had finally taken refuge. He had strained his arm even more during the near mishap with the trawler, and he was obviously shaken. Only George and Rolf still looked in control. George had been through heavier gales than this; and Rolf had taken off his glasses so that he could no longer see the worst of the waves.
Then, as so often happens, the new day brought an improvement in the weather. The gale began to ease, and by degrees our spirits rose. Our matches had been ruined by the sea water, but after rummaging around in the emergency kit a box of waterproof matches was discovered, and the Primus stove was lit. Hot coffee followed an anonymous stew of macaroni and vegetables, and Brendan's crew began to take a more intelligent interest in their surroundings. George made the happy discovery that it was much easier to steer the boat if the helmsman stood back to front, facing out over the stern and watching the waves. It was an odd sight, but then we were beginning to appreciate that most things aboard the Brendan were going to be highly unorthodox. The only audience to appreciate our small triumph was the seabirds, who promptly reapp
Posted November 30, 2011
Posted June 22, 2011
This is a perfect example of a well-documented voyage of discovery. Severin brings the reader on board the small vessel through many of the adventures. The only thing missing was the lack of photographs. The map and drawing of the boat were a little difficult to read on the NOOK but still a welcome sight.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 24, 2011
Put these textbooks away! In these times of learning these two subjects by rote and textbooks, I have a great alternative. The Brendan Voyage is full of adventure, and fun. Yes, this book will teach history and geography. My daughter and I picked this up while studying the middle ages. We have learned so much. This book tells the story of a voyage made in the 1970s to prove that a leather boat, actually sailed from Europe to the New World before the Vikings. The original sailor was none other than Saint Brendan, and friends, other Irish monks. This is the story of Tim Severin and three of his friends who built, stocked and sailed this magnificent sail boat. In the middle of their struggle with huge waves, icebergs and whales, we are regaled with the deep history of Greenland, Iceland the Faroe Islands and more. My daughter and I have enjoyed every chapter and learned about an area of the world that is usually not mentioned in textbooks because they are so distant and seemingly so unimportant on the large scheme of things. Get it, you will be entranced!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 11, 2002
I really enjoyed this book, and the effort that Tim but into his idea that the Irish Monks sailed to the new world in a leather boat. It could have been done back then, and it was done by Tim and his companions.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.