Reporting Jay Lloyd
You may have seen the time lapse video of the cruise ship Concordia being righted after her deadly disaster on the rocky Mediterranean coast. History is peppered with thrilling yarns of shipwrecks and survival; they have become a staple of global literature. Ironically, many of these nautical nerve janglers are in the hands of readers aboard cruise ships. In fact, a poolside read is the perfect way to enjoy a cocktail and some sunshine while voyaging from land to land. It’s like going to a scary movie, except the reader is smack in the middle of the adventure’s environment. So while you’re on your fall cruise, tuck into these page turners if you’re up for a tale of peril on the sea. – Jay Lloyd
THE PERFECT STORM, by Sebastian Junger, is two sea stories in one. It’s based on the disappearance of the Andrea Gail, a New England swordfish boat that was in the wrong place at the wrong time and vanished with all hands during a convergence of weather systems that formed “The Perfect Storm.” But it also tells the story of a private sailboat heading for Bermuda that’s caught in the same storm, and the dramatic rescue effort that saved the skipper and his female crew and cost the life of a National Guard chopper crewman. Hollywood snapped it up and George Clooney headed the cast as skipper of the lost Andrea Gail. The text version of the tale of the giant wave that consumed this vessel will have you riveted on the horizon.
THE SHIP AND THE STORM, by Jim Carrier, is the hair-raising tale of a sturdy windjammer cruise ship being chased around the Gulf of Honduras by Hurricane Mitch just 15 years ago. Before Mitch blew itself out, the storm’s deadly winds claimed over 18,000 lives, but the young skipper of the Fantome managed to get all his passengers ashore in Belize. I recently met one of the ship stewards, who was left ashore to get the passengers sorted out and arrange flights home. She was spared the fate of the remaining crew that returned to sea seeking a safe haven for the ship. Instead, Mitch relentlessly hunted it down as though the storm had a mind of its own. Fantome zigged, Mitch zagged, until the 282-foot steel-hulled vessel was trapped off the Mosquito Coast of Honduras. There, Fantome was swamped and sank with the loss of all hands.
IN THE HEART OF THE SEA, by acclaimed author Nathaniel Philbrick, may sound familiar. Remember struggling through Moby Dick in high school? That yarn was no figment of Herman Melville’s imagination. It was based on the real-life story of the whaling ship Essex out of Nantucket that encountered one really angry whale in Pacific. The whale, which was either seeking revenge or just exercising its extremely ornery personality, rammed the ship not once but three times, sending it to Davey Jones Locker and its 20 man crew into lifeboats for a 4,500 mile voyage of survival. And – spoiler alert! – it’s a survival that required mutually agreed upon cannibalism. Eyes at poolside will surely stray from the page to the sea for a glimpse of a sounding leviathan.
MEN AGAINST THE SEA, by Charles Nordoff and James Hall, continues the Mutiny on the Bounty saga, with perhaps the most riveting mutiny story in the annals of nautical history. Cast away with nearly 20 loyal crew members in the South Pacific, Captain William Bligh shook a fist at the mutineers who seized His Majesties Ship Bounty and steered a course in a leaking, open lifeboat for the Dutch East Indies. Short of food and water, the survival of all but one was a testament to Bligh’s skills as a seaman as he navigated over 3,600 miles and 42 days under a broiling sun. Time for a lifeboat drill?
THE STRANGE LAST VOYAGE OF DONALD CROWHURST, by Nicholas Tomalin and Ron Hall, tells the intriguing story of a British yachtsman who was quite competent in local sailing races but far over his head in an ambitious “Round the World” contest. To make matters worse, each boat — including his experimental trimaran, Electron — was crewed by only one man. Donald Crowhurst would have no help navigating through the stormiest patch of water on the planet. This is the story of a man who takes the easy way out and jumps into a sheltered cove off Argentina, radios false position reports and, when the rest of the racers return to the Atlantic, jumps out in front of the pack to claim the lead. Then his boat is found abandoned in mid-ocean. The logbooks show the rantings of a man going slowly mad, who apparently then just slipped over the side to end his life. The tale was fictionalized as OUTERBRIDGE REACH by novelist Robert Stone. Either book provides a head-spinning read while cruising over the waters where sailors and steamers created an enduring history of adventure on the high seas.