I miss the ocean. As a sailor in the USN I had the good fortune of being stationed on a ship out of Japan that sailed the picturesque waters of the Pacific Ocean. I remember stealing many moments out on the sponson decks, enjoying a smoke while flying fish skittered across the placid waters painted in orange and mauve as the sun slowly set behind the wide horizon. I grew up in Pittsburgh and had never really traveled at all before my enlistment. Everywhere you turn here there is a hill in your face. Seeing something two or three blocks away qualifies the scene as “panoramic.” Thus it is was that the immense space of the ocean really took hold of me. As a junior enlisted my life revolved around painting, cleaning, and liberty, but of course the navy was once much different. I am referring to the age of sail and thanks to a healthy niche market there is an abundance of fiction that can take you back to the days of wooden ships and iron men.
The king of the genre has to be C. S. Forester. Born in 1899 Forester was himself from a different era and his smooth, formal prose helps to transport the reader to bygone days. His most famous character, Horatio Hornblower, enjoyed a storied career stretched out over 11 novels, from seasick midshipman all the way to Admiral in charge of everything. A&E produced a fantastic TV adaptation of the early novels starring Ioan Gruffudd.
The Aubrey-Maturin series of novels by Patrick O’Brian constitutes another highly successful series. The adventures of Captain Jack Aubrey and his friend Stephen Maturin, naturalist, doctor, and sometime spy will provide hours and hours of amusement. The series inspired 2003’s Master and Commander The Far Side of the World starring Russell Crowe which is worth a view.
The Kydd series from Julian Stockwin stands out in the field by the author’s choice to follow the adventures of an enlisted sailor in the British navy. Thomas Paine Kydd joins up the hard way, kidnapped by a press gang and initiated into the brutal life below decks.
Before enlisting yourself, landsmen and landswomen out there may wish to read up a bit on the stunning array of terminology associated with sailing the tall ships. Sailing these vessels required immense knowledge and precise coordination. During my time at sea I had to learn how to wax the floor just right but it’s not really in the same league.