Wednesday, September 05, 2012
HELL AROUND THE HORN by Rick Spilman (review)
From the hustle and bustle of the wharf side in Cardiff, we are introduced to the crew of the LADY REBECCA. The ageing windjammer, loaded with a cargo of coal, is set to sail from Wales, UK, to a port on the west coast of South America following the route taken by the famous clipper ships around Cape Horn.
By 1905, the days of the great commercial sailing ships were dying, but Captain Barker is intent on challenging the notorious Horn once more. He is so confident, he takes his wife and children with him.
Barker’s choice of sailors is both wise and eclectic. Some men have experience, others little, but one is dangerous – a fact that only becomes evident as the story unfolds. Facing unsympathetic winds, the dreaded Doldrums, fire on board and near mutiny, after two months sailing and over 8000 miles from home, the ship reaches the point of no return. Ahead is the notorious Horn with the menacing winds and currents which are associated with it. Barker takes up the challenge and proceeds even though the sea is intent on swallowing his ship.
It is here that Spilman’s personal experience as a tall-ship sailor comes to the fore. His awareness of the sea, the dangers, the excitement, the fear, and man’s vulnerability in a vast stretch of wild Ocean allows him to paint an unforgettable image – one of the best storms at sea I have read.
The story is told from several points of view including that of the Captain, the Apprentice and the Captain’s wife, though she has a minor role and could possibly have been omitted from the cast.
In the extensive section of glossaries and notes at the end of the book, Spilman explains that his inspiration for writing HELL AROUND THE HORN stemmed from a voyage of a ship named, ‘British Isles’.
Apart from his extensive writerly experiences and seamanship, Spilman is also a naval architect which explains why his knowledge of ships and sailing are second to none. While ‘HELL AROUND THE HORN’ is his first published novel, I look forwards to reading more work from this author.