Down to the Sea in Ships by Horatio Clare

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Down to the Sea in Ships by Horatio Clare

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Category: Travel
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Luke Marlowe
Reviewed by Luke Marlowe
Summary: A gripping look at a way of life that is long gone from many parts of the world, Down to the Sea in Ships sweeps the reader up in a wave of history, biography and adventure.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 368 Date: February 2015
Publisher: Vintage
ISBN: 9780099526292

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Inspired by a chance read of Moby Dick, the aptly named Horatio Clare applies to be a writer in residence for a shipping company. They accept, and he travels with them on two voyages - one from Felixstowe to Los Angeles, and the other from Antwerp to Montreal.

Spending seemingly endless days aboard these huge, town sized ships, Clare is given the chance to truly explore the life of a sailor - through talking to the shipmates, through exploration of the ship itself, and through snippets of history and literature surrounding the history of shipping itself. Life on board is related vividly - both in Clare's poetic prose, and the passages in which the shipmates talk verbatim. There is no denying that they live hard, cramped lives, but a love for the sea and for travel shines through, despite the fact that, in many ports, they are unable to leave the boats. It makes it all the more affecting when Clare explains that shipping is a dying trade - and that many of these men may soon be out of jobs.

The odd world of life on board the ships is explained in great detail - a mix of cultures and creeds, Clare is rightly aghast when he discovers that the filipino sailors are paid a fraction of what sailors from the western world are paid, despite performing the same tasks on board. Whilst the boats may be shipping mobile phones, and the filipino sailors allowed a karaoke machine, an oddly old fashioned tone seems to permeate the lower decks - with sailors offering each other formal greetings, retaining old superstitions, and taking great pride in ensuring that the boat is spotless and, rather fittingly, shipshape. Stories of shipping tragedies and disasters are also relayed, as are the environmental consequences of the shipping, and of our mass consumerism - but these are never allowed to overrule the main sentiment of the book - one of old fashioned sailors travelling through a world that is still full of the unknown.

There is no doubt that it is a dangerous life - Clare is ordered off the ship at some point, the sailors not willing to risk having a reporter sail with them through the dangerous and pirate infested Indian Ocean. Tales of storms and men swept overboard are genuinely chilling, and give one real admiration for the men who sail the deep seas everyday. Clare's writing is where the book truly excels, although it took me some time to get used to. Clare tells brief snippets of story, history and context, but these quickly build up pace and move in a similar direction, pushing the reader along in a strong current of excitement and adventure.

Whilst I (one who gets travel sick on a windy road, let alone in a stormy ocean), will not be taking to the seas for an adventure anytime soon, Horatio Clare has crafted an enlightening and thrilling book, that truly explores all corners of the shipping industry, celebrating heroes who go unrewarded and unthanked by many of us.

Many thanks to the publishers for the copy.

Ghost Train to the Eastern Star by Paul Theroux may seem rather different, but is a gripping and thrilling read that includes travel, adventure, history and literature to tell a tale of a way of life that is fast being destroyed.

Buy Down to the Sea in Ships by Horatio Clare at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Down to the Sea in Ships by Horatio Clare at

Buy Down to the Sea in Ships by Horatio Clare at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Down to the Sea in Ships by Horatio Clare at


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