Way of a Ship: A Square-Rigger Voyage in the Last Days of Sail

Way of a Ship: A Square-Rigger Voyage in the Last Days of Sail

by Derek Lundy, Richard Easton
     
 

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When, as a young man in the 1880s, Benjamin Lundy signed up for unimaginably hard duty aboard a square-rigged commercial sailing vessel -- one destined for a treacherous, white-knuckle passage around that notorious "graveyard of ships," Cape Horn -- he had no idea that his experience would also provide a window into an epochal transition that would fundamentally… See more details below

Overview

When, as a young man in the 1880s, Benjamin Lundy signed up for unimaginably hard duty aboard a square-rigged commercial sailing vessel -- one destined for a treacherous, white-knuckle passage around that notorious "graveyard of ships," Cape Horn -- he had no idea that his experience would also provide a window into an epochal transition that would fundamentally change man's relation to the sea. A century later, Derek Lundy, author of the bestselling Godforsaken Sea and an accomplished amateur seaman himself, set out to recount his forebear's journey. The Way of a Ship is a mesmerizing account of Benjamin's life on board the square-rigger Beara Head, a remarkable reconstruction of a harrowing journey through the most dangerous waters, furling sails 150 feet aloft in heavy weather; enduring cold and danger; sleep-deprived and malnourished, at times half-starved; fighting each day to save the ship and his crewmates. In the process, Benjamin "learns the eternal lessons of the sea, which is to say that he finds out the sort of man he is." But The Way of a Ship extends beyond the dramatic narrative of the voyage itself, evoking both the romance and brutality of a bygone era, illuminating the history of square-rigger seamen and the last days of the "beautiful, widow-making, deep-sea" sailing ships, above all demonstrating how the ascendancy of the steam engine led to the end of a centuries'-old tradition. Derek Lundy's masterful account reminds readers of what Melville and Conrad expressed so well: that the sea voyage is an overarching metaphor for life itself.

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Editorial Reviews

The Washington Post
The Way of a Ship, then, is less an account of a specific albeit fictitious voyage than a tribute to the seamen of the Age of Sail. As such it joins innumerable other books that address the same subject, many of which have appeared during the boom in nautical books of the past couple of decades. But Lundy's is a vivid and useful addition to this literature. He does not sentimentalize or romanticize the seamen in any way -- they were a coarse, violent, mostly semi-literate lot, "turbulent wanderers without homes, roistering their way around the world from whoring drunkards in port into sober and precise workers at sea" -- but he has a deep appreciation for the knowledge they accumulated and the skill with which they used it. — Jonathan Yardley
Publishers Weekly
Lundy (Godforsaken Sea), an experienced amateur sailor, offers a gale-force recreation of a late 19th-century square-rigger voyage. He begins by introducing his Irish-Canadian great-great-uncle, sailor Benjamin Lundy. Since little information about Benjamin was available, the author combines the few facts with what he learned about life on square-riggers from maritime museums to fabricate an imaginary voyage and a fictitious ship, the Beara Head. Benjamin sets off on the Beara Head in 1885 amid "the smoky mist and watery sun of a Liverpool spring day." While charting the ship's course (around Cape Horn to Valparaiso and on to San Francisco), the author shares details of ship construction, food, equipment and the routine tasks of those onboard. He depicts the romance and tranquil beauty of square-riggers, along with the intense physical challenges the exhausted, sleep-deprived seamen deal with. Under "the black, boiling clouds of the storm," they wrestle with the topsail: "The fight to control the sail becomes nightmarish toil without end." Musical sea chants pitch and roll with gusto throughout this adventure tale, along with Lundy's personal sailing experiences, plus literary references from Conrad, Melville and others. Convincing dialogue crests on rippling waves of fiction, yet readers will surface with a strong sense of seagoing history, a knowledge of the specialized skills involved in keeping square-riggers afloat and a respect not only for the fierce power of the elements but also for Lundy's considerable talent as a writer. Photos, map. Agent, Anne McDermid. (Apr. 1) Forecast: A coastal author tour (including stops in New York, Boston, Providence, Cape Cod and Seattle) should target interested readers. Copyright 2003 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
To reconstruct the voyage of a 1880s square-rigger merchant ship around the Cape Horn, Lundy (Godforsaken Sea: The True Story of a Race Through the World's Most Dangerous Waters) draws on his own experiences as a trainee aboard the barque Europa, the recollections and speculations of other sea writers, and his own vivid imaginings of the experiences of his great-great uncle, Benjamin Lundy, a Cape Horn seaman in the 1880s. The theme throughout-almost excruciatingly documented and developed-concerns the endurance of those wind-ship sailors, who, "always soaked, no heat or light...malnourished...went aloft a hundred feet or more on icy ratlines and footropes, up masts that could whip to and fro through ninety degrees of arc in a few seconds, to grapple with homicidal sails, certain death just one small mistake, a slip away....How could they have done it?" Although Lundy certainly re-creates a rugged way of life, it is still a re-creation and always seems to be slightly less than the sum of its parts. We arrive at the curious epilog to this voyage with appetite still whetted for more than Lundy's conclusion: "The sea-voyage story ends. History begins again. Or the search for the sparse bits and pieces of ordinary lives-that history-begins again." It is to Lundy's credit, however, that he does not try to improve on that realistic but tantalizing closure. Recommended for all libraries.-Robert C. Jones, Central Missouri State Univ., Warrensburg Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Another resonant seafaring tale from Lundy (Godforsaken Sea, 1999), as a square-rigger rounds Cape Horn at the close of the 19th century. The author�s great-great-uncle was a seaman on a merchant sailing vessel that sailed from Liverpool to Valparaiso carrying coal that would, ironically, be used by the steamships that ensured the obsolescence of sailing ships. Combining his fragments of information about his uncle�s life with what is known about this particularly difficult route, Lundy shapes a blow-by-blow narrative of his uncle�s passage. He describes the look and lay of the vessel�s architecture, the daily activities of the seamen, the doings of the captain�s wife, the torrent of inventive vulgarities streaming nonstop from the mate, the gradual deterioration of the men�s physical well-being and their behavior, and the consequent birth of petty rivalries and antagonisms. Lundy draws a crack picture of the last days when sailing ships were used as common transport and doesn�t scant the sheer brutality of the work. (Crimping, a legal form of shanghaiing, was often the only way to secure enough men to crew the ships.) He avoids melodrama, but there is no escaping the weather, or the urgency that gives way to terror as winds grow and the seas become an outrageous tumble of trough and crest. Lundy is particularly good at evoking the most dangerous situations, recounting the interplay between heavy weather and the captain's decisions with grim realism, yet lyrically portraying the ship as a living thing that must work, if not in harmony then at least in concert with the riotous elements that surround it. He writes with the ease of one familiar with boats, while not expecting the same fromhis readers. Refreshingly breezy, despite the degree of detail: a saga of life under sail that touches to the quick. (Photos, not seen) Author tour
Jonathan Yardley
“A tribute to the seamen of the Age of Sail.”
Sunday Times (London)
“The wealth and authority of this book make it a worthy companion to the very best histories on seafaring.”

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780060535513
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
03/13/2003
Edition description:
Abridged, 5 CDs
Product dimensions:
5.10(w) x 5.90(h) x 0.78(d)

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Jonathan Yardley
“A tribute to the seamen of the Age of Sail.”

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