Cindy Vallar, Editor & Reviewer
P.O. Box 425, Keller, TX 76244-0425
||Sea Yarns Galore
Sea Yarns Galore
Books from My Tall Ships Database
by Irwin Bryan
2021 Posts: Welcome Privateers What's New (1) What's New (2): Naval Series
2022 Posts: Gems Among Yarns Clipper Way Reference List
Welcome (20 November 2021)
Hi. I’m the Irwin that Cindy mentions in her newsletters. You may have also read some of my book reviews here at Pirates and Privateers. I have always been an avid reader and read books on many subjects.
In the 1960s, World War II was trending with a weekly show called Combat and the 20-episode Victory at Sea was captivating for us little boys. As we grew older, the Vietnam conflict was intensifying right there on the evening news.
For parents worried for their children who might get drafted, they could get them into college with involvement in extracurricular activities, sports, and religious organizations. I was involved in each of those pursuits and went to overnight summer camps for five years. By age eleven, I wanted to attend the Naval Academy and become a naval officer. To increase my chances I was sent to a sailing camp for the next two summers. Anything about ships and the sea has been of interest ever since.
My aspirations were derailed by my color blindness since ships use red and green navigation lights. I joined the Navy upon graduating high school and became a hospital corpsman after volunteering on a rescue squad my senior year.
In the old days, most books people read were borrowed from libraries. I live in the five-county Philadelphia area and have a library card for each county.
Back in the 1990s, I was reading Patrick O’Brian’s Jack Aubrey/Steven Maturin Royal Navy series. These nineteen books told the tale of a junior officer who eventually became an admiral. There were storms, shipwrecks, naval and amphibious battles, and a wealth of descriptions of life at sea. To read them in chronological order I traveled to many libraries for the next title.
Since I drove up to an hour to get there, I took time to see what other maritime and naval books they had and wrote down many titles and authors. It didn’t take long for me to realize I was writing down the same books another library had. I decided to organize this list and created an Excel spreadsheet. Then I made searching the Internet for these books a hobby and added other volumes as I found them.
Designed as a reading list and book locator, I have read over 800 books in my Tall Ships Database so far. Many of these were published and printed in the 19th century.
My rules for the titles that make the list are simple.
1. The book must be a story – either fiction or non-fiction -- have 100 pages or more, and be for adult reading.From dial-up modems to Cloud computing, I still do the book searches and have compiled over 8,000 titles about the Royal Navy, early American Navy, explorers and much more. Of course, pirate and privateer books are included in my database. In fact, there are over 1,400 titles listed on just these two subjects.
2. There must be a sailing ship with at least two masts in the story. No steamships or ships with any engines, except tugboats, are permitted unless the steamship is not the main subject.
3. The genre cannot be romance, fantasy, or science-fiction.
4. The book must be published in some format, but cannot be a technical manual, picture book, or book about modeling.
I asked Cindy if I could write about them in this blog, which I call "Sea Yarns Galore: Books from My Tall Ships Database." Rather than talk about any single title, I will write about them in general and list some titles with each post.
Cindy and I hope you will enjoy this addition to Pirates and Privateers, and I promise to entertain you along the way.
Here are a few titles to start things off.
History of Pirates: Blood and Thunder on the High Seas
by Nigel Cawthorne
History, 17th-18th centuries
Under the Black Flag: The Romance and the Reality of Life Among the Pirates
by David Cordingly
History, 17th-18th centuries
General History of the Pyrates: From Their First Rise and Settlement in the Island of Providence, to the Present Time
by Captain Charles Johnson
History, 18th century
Dead Men Tell No Tales
by E. W. Hornung
Fiction, Adventure 17th-18th centuries
Wind Commands Me: A Life of Sir Francis Drake
By Ernie Bradford
(review on page 81)
Biography, 16th-17th century
Wolves of the Channel (1681-1856)*
by William B. Johnson
History, 16th-18th century
Privateers: A Raiding Voyage to the Great South Sea
by Fleming Macleish
Fiction, 17th century
Buccaneer King: The Biography of Sir Henry Morgan, 1635-1688*
by Dudley Pope
Biography, 17th century
*If a free download or review of the book is not available, Irwin will just provide the title and author.
Privateers (20 November 2021)
As fans of Pirates and Privateers you probably have a better idea of the differences between these two groups of sailors than most people. To be sure we are all on the same page, let us look a little closer.
All legitimate privateer captains were granted commissions, also known as letters of marque, to capture the enemy’s ships in a time of war. Sometimes, depending on the time period, these commissions also covered attacks on towns. Enemy governments did not necessarily recognize these authorizations, which led to privateers being labeled pirates instead.
For the sailors there was little difference between both groups regarding the work they had to do. But there were times when privateers seized ships of a neutral country, thus making them pirates too.
Some of the earliest Anglo-Saxon privateers were merchants and nobles from a group of five towns in eastern England. These towns became known as the Cinque Ports and those who sailed from them did so in defense of the realm.
During the 16th century, the first of Queen Elizabeth’s Sea Dogs went privateering by heading to the Caribbean after Spanish gold. John Hawkins, Francis Drake, and Martin Frobisher tried to trade with the Spanish, but were forbidden to do so. Instead, the men chose to plunder and launched attacks to seize any form of valuables, including minted coins and church items such as gold candle holders and ceremonial cups.
Drake led an overland attack on Panama and was the first Englishman to see the Pacific Ocean. He was the first man to sail around the world. In the process, he attacked Panama again, this time by sea and captured a Manila galleon laden with the largest treasure ever captured. Sir Francis Drake became England’s national hero, while the Spanish king called him El Drago, the Dragon, and wanted him dead. Don’t miss a chance to read more about his daring exploits.
Drake was such a heroic figure that many books were written about him for children and adults. As you get older there’s a tendency to doubt the truths you read as a youth. It makes discovering those events that really happened even better.
The Sea Dogs and their ships also defended England when the Spanish Armada arrived in the English Channel. They were certainly no strangers to the sounds and smells of a sea battle. (Books on the Armada will be discussed in a later post.)
One tactic of privateering attacks was to travel to a point on land and leave their ships to attack a town. Buccaneers of the 17th century plundered Spanish towns, seeking the precious metals and gems taken from the land and bound for Spain. Hundreds of men took to the sea in all manner of vessels, each heading for a secret rendezvous where oceangoing ships transported them to their destinations.
If you want to understand how difficult attacking a town was, Peter Earle’s Sack of Panama will acquaint you with the heat, the bugs and snakes, and the hunger and thirst experienced while struggling through a tropical jungle. It was just as difficult coming back with their plunder too.
Henry Morgan advanced his standing among the buccaneers and led invasions in Nicaragua, Honduras, and Panama. If you are not familiar with Morgan, there are a number of books about this military genius. He was so successful that he was knighted and made a member of Jamaica’s nobility. His actual life reads much more like fiction.
The books tell lots of stories about Morgan. Some say he was a gentleman. Others that he was a ruthless leader who ordered his men to open fire even though the Spanish used nuns as shields. One thing all agree on is how cunning he was and they provide several examples of this.
Here are books about Drake, Morgan, the Sea Dogs and Buccaneers.*
Morgan the Pirate
by Robert Carse
Sack of Panama: Sir Henry Morgan's Adventures on the Spanish Main
by Peter Earle
Brethren of the Coast: British and French Buccaneers in the South Seas
by Peter K. Kemp
by F. Van Wyck Mason
by Kerry Newcombe
Empire of Blue Water: Capt. Morgan's Great Pirate Army, the Epic Battle for the Americas,
and the Catastrophe That Ended the Outlaw's Bloody Reign
by Stephen Talty
The Pirate King: The Incredible Life of the Real Captain Morgan
by Graham A. Thomas
Secret Voyage of Sir Francis Drake 1577-1586
by Samuel Bawlf
In the Days of Drake: Being the Adventures of Humphrey Salkeld
by J.S. Fletcher
The Sea Dogs: Privateers, Plunder, and Piracy in the Elizabethan Age
by Neville Williams
*The pirate thumb's up denotes a book that Irwin likes.
So, What’s New? (22 December 2021)
When I ask this rhetorical question, I am referring to when the events of the Age of Sail happened and also when books about these events first began to be written.
After all, authors who write about pirates, for example, must look back hundreds of years for inspiration and do research in order to write their books, whether they are historical novels or nonfiction. Then again, books about the Age of Sail have been written since soon after the events occurred and continue to be written nowadays. And most of these books are included in my database.
Flipping this around, readers may have some familiarity with these topics when choosing a book to read. People don’t generally check the copyright date when making their selections. They may have a desire to read about the pirate Blackbeard and be entertained or informed by any book about him.
So, what is new to them may be anything they find. It could be an old hardback with an engraved title or a paperback with a full-color illustration on the front cover.
When I began my database, I was mostly confined to books I found on the shelf at a library or bookstore or in a book’s bibliography. I contacted publishers and received catalogs of mail-order books. But I could not do much at home until I had a dial-up modem connection to the internet.
I began by searching the Philadelphia library’s catalog using authors’ names and subject searches. The computers and modem were so slow loading pages that I read a book at the same time and persevered until things got faster.
When I added titles to my list, I included the author, its one-word subject, which library had it, and, if not fiction, I included the Dewey Decimal number. I also had a column where I tracked which books I had read.
The first search discovery I made was that the online catalog listed all books on the shelves and in storage. Most of the latter were able to be taken out by asking the librarian in person or by phone. Many more books were in storage than on the shelves. The main library in Philadelphia called their storage area the Central Stacks, which I shortened to "centstack." (According to Cindy, who is a retired librarian, “stacks” is the term used to differentiate the storage area of a library from the reading or public area. It basically consists of rows upon rows of bookshelves.)
A number of books that I identified to list or read were first printed in the 1800s. I often wondered if I would be the last person to ever read some of them. Some of these books included a donated set of works by Frederick Marryat, a former captain in the Royal Navy, which were printed in 1840. Those by William Clark Russell, a prolific writer and former merchant sailor, were published towards the end of the nineteenth century.
Once I finished searching Philadelphia’s collection, I started on the county library’s catalog. I soon learned they had received an endowment to save all fiction stories forever. Again, these were able to be read if requested. They were kept in the storage area referred to as “Old Fiction” by the library, or "O F" in my database.
Before I went to a library, I could print out a list of that library’s books that I hadn't read yet. Fiction appeared in alphabetical order and nonfiction in order by Dewey number. Once there, I could go to the exact shelves, grab the books I wanted to read, pick up the "old fiction" books I had requested, and check out in ten minutes.
As computers and internet connections got faster, I shifted my attention to websites of book publishers and historical pages that listed their sources or included a bibliography.
Then the world of books changed. Used books could be purchased at reduced prices on Amazon and eBay. Older books started to be available in digital format as free e-books that could be read on your computer, e-readers like Kindle, and, eventually, smartphones.
At present, there are over 2,000 titles in my database that are available as free e-books or can be purchased to read on a Kindle. Whether newly published or just new to the database, the vast majority should be new to you! C'mon, adventures await!!!
Among the books listed below, Jules Verne’s entry tells the melancholy story of an East Indiaman that foundered on the west coast of Africa before Europeans had colonized the coast and even Cape Town's settlement was mostly in the future. Despite the large number of survivors, they were doomed to live their lives in central Africa without ever joining European society again.
I chose to include a work by William Clark Russell even though his books were all published in the last fifteen years of the nineteenth century. But I suggest most readers should not attempt to read them until they are “worth their salt!” That means, like an old sailor, they are familiar with the terminology and components of a ship and her rigging. Russell uses nautical expressions in every sentence. He even described a girl as having a fine top hamper, or nice sails on the upper yards instead of being buxom!
Jack London’s Sea Wolf is a psychological thriller that may be a challenge to read because of the amount of evil manifested by the ship’s captain.
There is also an early biography of Blackbeard, and Howard Pyle writes about some of the earliest buccaneers.
Left to right: One of Édouard Riou's illustrations for Jules Verne's Survivors of the Chancellor (Source: Wikimedia Commons); William Clark Russell as a midshipman
in the merchant navy of the United Kingdom (Source: Wikimedia Commons); 1904 Cover for Jack London's Sea Wolf (Source: Wikimedia Commons); Cover illustration
by Frank E Schoovonor for Ralph D. Paine's Blackbeard Buccaneer (Source: Wikimedia Commons)
Survivors of the Chancellor
by Jules Verne
Mr. Midshipman Easy
by Frederick Marryat
Sailor’s Sweetheart: An Account of the Wreck of the Sailing Ship Waldershare
by William Clark Russell
Ghost Ship: A Mystery of the Sea
by John C. Hutcheson
by Jack London
Incredible Pirate Tales
by Tom McCarthy
by Ralph D. Paine
Buccaneers and Marooners of America
by Howard Pyle
Pirates!: Brigands, Buccaneers, and Privateers in Fact, Fiction, and Legend
by Jan Rogozinski
by Raphael Sabatini
So, What’s New? Part Two
As a young sailor trained in sloops, I was interested in reading about tall ships, but knew very little about them. I only knew some of these were warships, so I read naval stories about them first.
The sloops I sailed were one-masted catboats with a main sail and smaller jib sail. These were both triangular fore-and-aft sails instead of the square-rigged sails on tall ships with three masts. During the Age of Sail, one of the smaller types of ships used by the Royal Navy and Continental Navy were also called "sloops," but these were two-masted vessels with a mix of square and triangular sails. They were armed with six to twelve 9-pound cannons at best. Designed for inshore work, they had a much lighter draft than frigates and larger vessels.
This blog post is mostly on naval action series. When I began reading naval books about the Age of Sail, the books available were predominantly focused on fleet actions with ships of the line, or famous ships and captains involved in ship-to-ship frigate duels. Many writers told stories about junior officers called midshipmen and how they advanced through the ranks to command ships and fleets in a series of books. (Upcoming articles will be about books on pirates, clipper ships, and merchant ships.)
One such author is C.S. Forester and his character, Horatio Hornblower. Forester was one of the first writers of naval fiction to publish multiple books about the same person. Several titles told of Hornblower’s midshipman days and they are great for readers who are relatively new to wooden ships because he is a novice and he must learn about his ship and duties. Forester takes readers through these lessons since it helps them become familiar with naval terminology such as parts of the masts and rigging, places aboard the ship, and the firing of cannons.
Here are the individual titles, which are in chronological order:
Mr. Midshipman Hornblower(Some of the midshipman stories have been published together in a single book. It may be easier to find these collections than the older single titles at the library or online.)
Hornblower and the Hotspur
Hornblower and the Atropos
Beat to Quarters
Ship of the Line
Captain Horatio Hornblower
Admiral Hornblower in the West Indies
Hornblower During the Crisis
The Hornblower series was so popular it was portrayed on TV and film. Gregory Peck first became the physical embodiment of Captain Hornblower for several generations. A newer series on the BBC starred Ioan Gruffudd as a younger Hornblower. I felt both actors nailed their portrayals and each story closely followed the ones that Forester wrote.
Frederick Marryat began his career on a ship commanded by Edward Pellew, who would become one of the greatest frigate captains of all time. Marryat’s Mr. Midshipman Easy is about Pellew’s exploits and Marryat’s role in them. It’s an excellent story and not too audacious since everything is true.
Other authors wrote three or more books about the same person, but only Dudley Pope’s Lord Ramage series and C. Northcote Parkinson’s six Richard Delancey books were completed before the 1990s. (Watch for a future blog on trilogies.)
Several series are still being written and new installments are published every year or two. These include Alexander Kent’s Richard Bolitho titles, Julian Stockwin’s Kydd books, Dewey Lambdin’s Alan Lewrie titles, and Richard Woodman’s Nathaniel Drinkwater series.
In terms of what each series is like, I think of the leading characters like this:
Hornblower is the lover.These books are all based on Royal Navy battles and other actual events of the Napoleonic Wars. All of these series include at least one book about the key Battle of Trafalgar. With those novels and others, I actually read about the exciting battle through the eyes of characters serving aboard twelve different ships.
Bolitho is the fighter.
Drinkwater is the pro.
Lewrie is the joker.
Ramage is the stiff board.
Delancey is the thinker.
In more recent times, new authors have written about lesser-known events, aboard smaller vessels, or in other time periods. Most have been aboard a fictitious ship and fighting imagined enemies. Others have chosen heroes who spend most of their stories on land or are involved in espionage rather than naval combat.
For these reasons, if you want to read about the Napoleonic period, it’s the older books that may be more likely to detail the fleet actions of those days. The newer authors I mention may be looking for their own niche, but it’s not at the expense of naval traditions or life on board ship. The action and adventures are just as exciting too.
Some authors who wrote series or other books on this era have also chosen to write new books that either are aboard older ships like galleons, or occur in ships that aren’t warships. Richard Woodman has done both. His Kit Faulkner books take place during the seventeenth century and other titles are about the East India Company and aboard clipper ships.
Joan Druett began writing about women at sea with titles like Hen Frigates: Wives of Merchant Captains under Sail, Petticoat Whalers: Whaling Wives at Sea, She Captains: Heroines and Hellions at Sea, She Was a Sister Sailor: The Whaling Journals of Mary Brewster, and Captain’s Daughter.
Although she has written a number of other books, her most recent ones include Island of the Lost: Shipwrecked at the Edge of the World, which tells the plight of a small crew cast ashore and surrounded by the cold waters of the Tasman Sea, and In the Wake of Madness: The Murderous Voyage of the Whaleship Sharon, a bad-luck voyage from start to finish that continues to be unlucky even after the murders.
The newer authors I wrote about still have great books out, most of which are also in e-book formats. The author and first book in each of their series are listed below.
Richard Bolitho, Midshipman
by Alexander Kent
The King’s Coat
by Dewey Lambdin
by C. Northcote Parkinson
by Julian Stockwin
An Eye of the Fleet
by Richard Woodman
A Ship for the King
by Richard Woodman
by Richard Woodman
by Dudley Pope
The Colonial Post-Captain
by Chris Durbin
Strike the Red Flag
by David McDine
by David O’Neill
The Friendly Sea
by Andrew Wareham
My next blog, "The Gems," will feature some of the best reads I discovered through my research.
I hope you all have a happy and safe holiday and a Happy New Year!
In this post I share some of the books I liked the most. I scrolled through the 900 titles in my spreadsheet that I’ve read; 180 are great in my opinion. To whittle down this list I selected just twenty-five fiction and twenty-five nonfiction books that I consider the best of the best. This is the first of several blogs about these Gems that will come every few months. I think there may be a book here for everyone and I wish you all good reading ahead!
The War for All the Oceans: From Nelson at the Nile to Napoleon at Waterloo
By Roy and Lesley Adkins
This is an excellent work by husband-and-wife historians that deals with the Royal Navy in action around the world. Fleet actions and duels between single ships are described in detail with quotes from the participants that paint vivid pictures of the action.
The often-ignored theater of war in the East is also covered, where Wellington gains some valuable experience. The private naval force known as the Bombay Marine get involved with pirates, the French are fooled by a daring ruse that saves some East Indiamen, and more adventures are told that you may or may not believe!
In 1812, America's declaration of war against Britain caused the Royal Navy to rearrange their forces around the world. Some familiar names had new orders to join the forces forming off New England.
The American navy's six new frigates, built since the Naval Act of 1794 authorized them, were better built and armed as well as or better than most Royal Navy frigates. This enabled our all-volunteer navy sailors to defeat several British frigates. The famed USS Constitution, known as "Old Ironsides," defeated two frigates and several other warships by herself. The Essex frigate captured HMS Alert and also rounded Cape Horn to attack the British whaling fleet in the Pacific. She was illegally captured in the neutral port of Valparaiso by the Royal Navy frigate HMS Phoebe and sloop HMS Cherub in 1814. Action between equally matched smaller vessels also resulted in several American victories.
Before this war ended, soldiers from the United Kingdom would land in Maryland and make their way to our new capital where they burned down the vacant White House. The troops would also fight a pitched battle in New Orleans at the war's end. Battles at these places and more tell a great story of a past worldwide war at sea, especially after Trafalgar was fought.
Room to Swing a Cat: Some Tales of the Old Navy
By Frederick Bell
This book has chapters on naval traditions, discipline, and punishments. The "cat" in the title refers to the cat-o'-nine-tails, a rope whip with nine knotted cords, used to flog sailors for offences like drunkenness and fighting. It also looks at America's naval war with the Barbary pirates and follows the heroes of that war into the War of 1812.
Ned Myers, or, A Life Before the Mast
By James Fenimore Cooper
Cooper's experience as a merchant sailor and midshipman in the US Navy gave him the background, knowledge, and experiences to be a great writer of sea stories and the author of his critically acclaimed History of the Navy of the United States of America. It's ironic that Cooper is known chiefly for his Leatherstocking tales.
Ned Myers was a real person who served "before the mast," tending sails and adjusting yards around the clock. He actually met Cooper and told him his story, which was fictionalized to include dialogue and released as Myers's own book. This created some confusion among Cooper's biographers, bibliographers, and readers.
King of Pirates: Being an Account of the Famous Enterprises of Captain Avery, the Mock King of Madagascar; with His Rambles and Piracies
By Daniel Defoe
Defoe, the Robinson Crusoe author, was also known for his stories about pirates. Defoe sometimes borrowed what others wrote or accomplished, and attributed these experiences to his heroes.
Despite these "preexisting conditions," most of what Defoe writes about Avery has been independently verified by other biographers, even though "Avery" or "Every" is still undecided. Defoe spelled his name with an "A," but many books and references use "Every."
One thing that is agreed upon: Avery scored big when he attacked a vessel belonging to a Muslim emperor who had some of his own family members and girls from a harem aboard.
There is no question that Avery's attack on the Ganj-i-Sawai treasure ship was one of the most brutal attacks on any ship's passengers and crew ever. It's hard to say what may have sparked the brutality -- the wounds, rapes, and terror they all suffered.
Soon after this attack, Avery sailed from the Caribbean to Ireland and retired from piracy. He is credited as the most successful pirate to ever retire with his stolen wealth.
I read every book I could find by Defoe after reading The Storm about a terrible three-day gale -- a book often considered to have sparked the birth of investigative journalism and was a hug undertaking for him. Robinson Crusoe too! I found King of Pirates to be an interesting story and liked seeing the values of the different captures that were made. I should mention that the book is written in eighteenth-century English, which may be a bit of a challenge for some.
Adam Penfeather, Buccaneer (#1)
Black Bartlemy's Treasure (#2)
Martin Conisby's Vengeance (#3)
By Jeffrey Farnol
These three books tell an Arabian Nights type of pirate story. There are the hardships of being a galley slave. A change of fate births a desire for revenge. A mysterious island has a hidden treasure. And love goes awry as a result. Most of this tale is told in the second and third titles. The first book establishes some truths that come into play in the later story. Together, this is a wonderful trilogy I recommend to anyone looking for an epic tale with plenty of swordplay and other action, and lady readers should know it's a bit of a romance too.
The Frozen Pirate
By William Clark Russell
This is one of my all-time favorite books. It's also one of Russell's titles with the least technical jargon.
The incredibly foreboding scenery of the frozen Antarctic and stormy wintry seas below Cape Horn form a grim backdrop to the unfolding tale. The shipwreck and Paul Rodney's day in the boat are exciting. The iceberg exploration and the vessel he finds are amazing and a great way to start this tale.
Once he boards the vessel, the descriptions of all that he finds there are so vivid and wondrous in the extreme that as the list grows, plans to possess these "stores" start forming. He gets some unexpected help from a frozen pirate. If you can accept that occurrence and keep reading, you will enjoy a great story.
This is a feel-good story where you really hope the protagonist, Paul, has his way, and you wish you are the protagonist too.
I hope these recommendations these recommendations will entice you to read some or all of these books. Upon completion, I trust you will have the same opinion as me and enjoy these titles as much as I did.
In the next newsletter, we'll go sailing across the oceans aboard clipper ships and windjammers. And I guarantee it won't be all fair winds along the way!
Along the Clipper Way (20 March 2022)Sir Francis Chichester's anthology of sailing stories, Along the Clipper Way, takes readers around the world using the route favored by the clipper ships, London to China or Australia and back to London. This was the fastest route since ships would sail around the world with the wind at their backs instead of tacking into the wind.
Countries in the Indian Ocean are impacted by the monsoon season each year. In addition to the gale force winds that occur, the prevailing winds blow steadily in the same direction, making it difficult to go against the wind. The annual tea harvest in China further complicates matters. Ships heading to China must arrive early, before the monsoons begin, and wait until the tea crop is harvested and packed for shipping.
Then the tea clippers literally raced to London with the monsoon winds at their backs and all sails set to get the best price for their cargo. These competitions were followed around the world, with many wagers made that backed the bettor’s favorite clippers. After a voyage of 15,000 miles, ships often arrived within twenty-four hours of their competitors. But nothing topped the Great Tea Race of 1866, when two competitors, Ariel and Taeping, raced side by side through the English Channel with all sails still set as they headed up the Thames. In the end, Taiping and her crew were declared the winner, but the merchants shared the winner’s bonus with both crews.
The winds that were coveted by the clipper captains were often the strongest winds found on Earth. As ships sailed south below the equator, the intensity of the winds increased. These westerly winds were known as the “Roaring Forties,” usually between 40 degrees South latitude and 50 degrees South, the “Furious Fifties” from 50° S to 60° S, and then the “Shrieking Sixties” or “Screaming Sixties.” The winds eventually circled the world without striking any land below the African continent, South America’s Cape Horn, and before the ice fields of Antarctica.
When gold was discovered in 1849 in California, the East Coast shipping companies needed to quickly get miners and products to the San Francisco area. The inflated prices for passenger berths and cargoes in California meant the shipbuilders and owners in the East could pay for the cost of building the ship and a full hull of cargo with just one voyage. This required the fastest route possible: to sail south to Cape Horn and then north to San Francisco instead of east around the world. But this also meant sailing into the teeth of that west wind and fighting for every inch of progress to pass the Horn and head north. Ships would be pushed back eastwards repeatedly and must begin the rounding anew, sometimes for weeks at a time.
The old salts agree that the winter of 1905 was the worst weather for ships rounding Cape Horn. This is best described by another salt, Rick Spilman of the Old Salt Blog, in his first novel, Hell Around the Horn. The howling winds and cries for all hands to tend sails come vividly to life and the cumulative effect on the crew is clearly described. Sore hands from handling frozen sails and body sores from wet clothes and bedding are obvious, but it is the mental struggle each sailor experiences which makes it that much worse. Exhaustion, no hot food or coffee to warm their souls, fears of falling, or freezing, or letting their crewmates down only serve to make the individual’s lot even harder. Two other good examples of books that tell the sailors’ stories are Robert Carse’s Moonrakers: The Story of the Clipper Ship Men and Basil Lubbock’s Round the Horn Before the Mast.
Although it wasn’t possible for ships to race each other from New York to San Francisco, each ship was tracked from start to finish to see which made the fastest passages, and who won their bets! When the ships were back East to load for another voyage, the fastest ships in port at that time commanded the highest prices for passengers and goods heading West.
There were two more gold rushes for shippers to capitalize on, in Australia and Alaska’s Yukon Territory. With the advent of steamships, once the Suez Canal was completed in 1869, the clipper ships could no longer compete with the steamers for the tea crop and the heyday of the clippers was over.
Australia was a leading exporter of grain. Although the crop wasn’t urgently needed in New York or London, the ships still raced and the results were published around the world. There were four-masted ships, called windjammers, that profited off grain shipments and also competed for bragging rights and bonuses.
A novice sailor who was a writer, Eric Newby, joined the crew of the Moshulu and later published The Last Grain Race after the voyage concluded. It is a great book and is special for me since the Moshulu became a fancy restaurant at Philadelphia’s Penn’s Landing and is still there today!
Included in this post’s suggested readings are two books that are part of the wonderful Time-Life Books series The Seafarers. I have ten of these titles that are filled with excellent information and lovely paintings. Two of these are The Clipper Ships, written by A. B. C. Whipple, and The Windjammers by Oliver E. Allen. Another book I wish to highlight is Eric Kentley’s Cutty Sark: The Last of the Tea Clippers. I had the pleasure of receiving this book and reviewed it here at Pirates and Privateers!
Some Clipper Ships and Windjammer Yarns*
Around in The Glory: 42nd Voyage around Cape Horn by Captain Daniel S. McLaughlin in Command of the Great Clipper Ship Glory of the Seas by Daniel C. McLaughlin
Captain Fraser's Voyages, 1865-1892 by Thomas G. Fraser
Captain Nathaniel Brown Palmer: An Old Time Sailor of the Sea by John Randolph Spears
Clipper Ship Captain: Daniel McLaughlin and the Glory of the Seas by Michael Jay Mjelde
Clippers for the Record: The Story of Ship Thermopylae, S. S. Aberdeen, and Captain Charles Matheson by Marny Matheson
George Blunt Wendell, Clipper Ship Master 1831-1881 by George Blunt Wendell
Master of Cape Horn: The Story of a Square-rigger Captain and His World, William Andrew Nelson, 1839-1929 by Hugh Falkus
Some Recollections by Charles Porter Low
That Fabulous Waterman by David Andrew Weir
Clipper Ships and Their Makers by Alexander Laing
Donald McKay and His Famous Sailing Ships by Richard C. McKay
Running Her Easting Down a Documentary of the Development and History of the British Tea Clippers, Culminating with the Building of the Cutty Sark by William F. Baker
Bound for Australia: The Loss of the Emigrant Ship Tayleur at Lambay on the Coast of Ireland by Edward J. Bourke
Fire Down Below: The Story of the Loss of the Cartsburn Clipper by W. M. Watt
The Hornet’s Longboat by William Roos
Iron Clipper Tayleur: The White Star Line's "First Titanic" by H. F. Starkey
The Last of the Windjammers by Basil Lubbock
Longboat to Hawaii: An Account of the Voyage of the Clipper Ship Hornet of New York Bound for San Francisco in 1866, as Recorded in the Journals of Captain Josiah A. Mitchell, Master and Henry and Samuel Ferguson, Passengers edited by Alexander Crosby Brown
The Wreck of the Wild Wave: The Untold Saga of Captain Knowles and Pitcairn Island by Thurman C. Petty, Jr.
Sailors, Women, History, and Novels
Apprentice to the Sea by Phillip McCutchan
Before the Mast: In the Grain Races of the 1930s by Geoffrey Robertshaw
Before the Mast in Clippers: The Diaries of Charles A. Abbey, 1856-1860 by Charles A. Abbey
The Bird of Dawning by John Masefield
By Way of Cape Horn by Alan Villiers
California by Sea by James P. Delgado
The Captain’s Wife by Douglas Kelley
China Race by John Dyson
Chronicle of the Calypso, Clipper by John Jennings
Clipper Ship Days by John Edward Jennings
The Clipper Ship Era: An Epitome of Famous American and British Clipper Ships, Their Owners, Builders, Commanders, and Crews, 1843-1869 by Arthur Hamilton Clark
Clipper Ships and the Golden Age of Sail: Races and Rivalries on the Nineteenth Century High Seas by Sam Jefferson
The Cutty Sark: Last of a Glorious Era by Alan Villiers
Emigrant Clippers to Australia: The Black Ball Line, Its Operation, People and Ships 1852-1871 by Michael K. Stammers
Flying Cloud: The True Story of America's Most Famous Clipper and the Woman Who Guided Her by David W. Shaw
Gold Fleet for California by Charles Bateson
Greyhounds of the Sea: The Story of the American Clipper Ship by Carl C. Cutler
The Last of the Windjammers by Basil Lubbock
Masts to Spear the Stars by Stephen Longstreet
The Ocean Mistress by Peter French
Sea Routes to the Gold Fields by Oscar Lewis
Shanghaiing Sailors: A Maritime History of Forced Labor, 1849-1915 by Mark Strecker
Shantyman by Rick Spilman
The Tea Clippers: Their History and Development 1833-1875 by David R. MacGregor
To California by Sea: A Maritime History of the California Gold Rush by James P. Delgado
Under Sail in the Last of the Clippers by Frederick William Wallace
Flying Cloud, Taeping, and Ariel
(Source: Sailing Ships: Paintings & Drawings, Dover, 2008)
In my first blog post I wrote about the criteria for a book to be included in my Tall Ships Database. I also mentioned checking the bibliographies of non-fiction works after reading them. But some of the listings did not qualify for inclusion in the database despite the valuable information they contained. So I decided to launch a second spreadsheet to save these works as a reference list.
Although I never searched for any of these books, the list continued to grow over the years and there are now more than 1,200 reference listings. I did not limit this to naval science or maritime history. Instead, I added anything a writer might use for background information, technical knowledge, or even inspiration for a writing topic.
Examples of the types of background information I include are Roy and Lesley Adkins’ Jane Austen’s England, an 1832 publication called The Maids, Wives, and Widows' Penny Magazine, A Dictionary of Old Trades, and books on life during the Napoleonic years.
A number of books describe what life at sea was like, daily routines aboard ships, cooking meals, sailor songs called shanties, superstitions, and folklore. Certain aspects of seamanship pertain to tying knots and fancy ropework, ocean meteorology, and learning the sea terms for parts of the ship. William Falconer’s A New Universal Dictionary of the Marine, published in 1769, has over 15,000 terms a sailor or officer may use.
A ship’s master and officers on watch need to know how to navigate in order to find their position and guide their ship to its destination. Authors of sea stories need to know how navigation is done and books are available about the “rules of the road” at sea, making and using sea charts, and following sailing directions. These are specific guides to use that describe how to get to certain ports and descriptions of landmarks and shorelines visible from sea. Overall, the bible for navigation was Nathaniel Bowditch’s The New American Practical Navigator, which was first published in 1802.
Of course, knowledge about shipbuilding is important. Some titles describe the laying out process in a mold loft. After the full-size dimensions are determined from an exact model of a ship design, full-size individual pieces are made to confirm that each part is made correctly. Other books reference the making of masts, sails, and the fancy decorations and figureheads found on most vessels.
Some books pertain to subjects that a merchant or captain of a merchant ship needs to know: laws governing imports and exports, rights of neutral ships in wartime, forms and materials a freighter or shipper would use, and admiralty laws. Of particular interest in the last item is prize law, which concerns the capture of merchant ships by warships and privateers.
A major part of the references deals with naval matters. There are guides for signaling ships and flags being flown. Naval history covers officer biographies, books on battles fought, and David Lyon’s The Sailing Navy List. This is a list of every ship that was ever part of the Royal Navy between 1660 and 1860 and certain particulars, such as the number of guns she carried and the names of her captains. Other titles concern a ship’s armament. Robert Simmons’ The Sea-Gunner’s Vade-Mecum was published in 1812, and the Admiralty published Instructions for the Exercise and Service of Great Guns on Board Her Majesty’s Ships.
Memoirs and Manuscripts is a category covering sea voyages, histories on explorations, the first fleets to Botany Bay, and shipwrecks that affected the authors.
It may surprise you to know that the leading authority on whaling of the nineteenth century was Alexander Starbuck. In 1878, he published History of the American Whale Fishery. The Starbucks were one of Nantucket’s founding families and their whaling stories influenced Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, a story inspired by the Essex, a whaler that departed Nantucket in 1819.
Altogether, the reference titles contained in this spreadsheet offer answers to many of the questions someone might have about the Age of Sail and, one day, may provide a catalyst to writing the next great book on the wooden world.
All 2022 blog posts Copyright ©2022 Irwin Bryan
*If no online versions or reviews of the books are available, Irwin just provides the author and title.
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