View Full Version : Age of Sail authors - the king uncrowned!

5th Feb 2009, 15:08
Alright, I know this is a flying forum but many aviators are sailors too, armchair or otherwise, so here's something for the hearties. :ok:

All my life I've been a devoted fan of C.S. Forester and Hornblower. Read all the books, delighted with the beautifully-made TV mini-series; generally lapped it all up. Then, 6 months ago, a friend introduced me to Patrick O'Brian and the Aubrey/Maturin series - and I'm being blown away! (-if you'll forgive the dreadful Aubrey-like pun.) These books are in a class of their own. A bit tricky to get into at first, with the style being so very 18th century, but O'Brian scores on so many levels. For a start, he introduces real humour. There are puns, sardonic wit and farce. And his heroes have huge flaws to match their great qualities that make them seem so much more human.

Anyone agree/disagree? Any other contenders?

Captain Stable
5th Feb 2009, 15:23
There was a thread on here not too long ago about O'Brian. I have to agree 100% with you. I love the 19th. century style prose.

But it's not just the sailing passages - O'Brian is excellent also on Natural History, on 19th. century medicine and surgery, on the politics and history...

Just brilliant. I've read every book at least twice, plus the non-Aubrey books he wrote.


Tyres O'Flaherty
5th Feb 2009, 15:24
O'Brian is ( or was..) the man without a doubt.

Sublime writing. All the Aubrey Maturin books bear repeated reading, because they're just so pleasurable.

Glad you've joined the Gunroom lol...

5th Feb 2009, 16:18
the series by Alexander Kent Bolitho series is a good read as well.

Kydd by Julian Stockwin is another good series of sailing fiction but based on someone coming up through the ranks so to speak.

lf your into historic fiction based on fact The Sharpe books by Bernard Cornwell are land based but very well written. I like the fact he includes a chapter at the end explain how he has deviated from history for the purposes of the story.

MInd you the common theme with all these books is the French getting a bloody good kicking

5th Feb 2009, 17:03
I'm a C.S. Forester fan, his Hornblower books got me hooked on Napoleonic sail yarns - I recommend his 'The Good Shepherd' it's about a USN destroyer on convoy patrol in the North Atlantic.

Back to the rum, sodomy & lash books. Richard Woodman's Nathaniel Drinkwater series are fact based fiction - he puts his characters in historically correct situations, Copenhagen, The Nile, Trafalgar etc. He has also written several seagoing books set in different periods. As good as Forester IMHO.

Never really got into Bolitho - read most of them though. Even came across a ship's cooper with my (unusual) surname in one of them.

6th Feb 2009, 12:51
O'Brian was also the translator of Papillon.

Captain Stable
6th Feb 2009, 12:55
MInd you the common theme with all these books is the French getting a bloody good kickingNot necessarily - in at least one of the O'Brian books it's the Brits getting a bloody good kicking courtesy of the colonial cousins. :eek:

But it's still a good read. :ok:

6th Feb 2009, 13:57
but many aviators are sailors too

Especially Captain Sullenberger - and a damn good one too........

Captain Stable
6th Feb 2009, 13:59
His ship was only in the water a few minutes before it sank - he didn't make much progress either, and then failed to go down with his ship! :cool:

6th Feb 2009, 15:50
Monsarrat - not just "The Cruel Sea", but also "Three Corvettes", "H.M.S. Marlborough will enter harbour" and "Master Mariner"

Lon More
6th Feb 2009, 16:36
Bob Roberts (http://www.eatmt.org.uk/bob_roberts.htm) wrote a number of books about the last days of sail up and down the East Coat. (a good singer too)
Tristan Jones's (http://www.tristanjones.org/) books were also quite compelling


6th Feb 2009, 17:40
I've got most of Tristan Jones' books and no longer read them (I used to re-digest them at least once a year). He wrote well and his adventures & experiences were gripping.
I was so disappointed when I found out that much of them weren't true.

Two Years Before the Mast by Richard Dana takes some beating, as does Chichester's Gipsy Moth Circles the World.

eastern wiseguy
6th Feb 2009, 18:06
Douglas Reeman......virtually inhaled them as a sprog........:ok:

BAMRA wake up
6th Feb 2009, 18:50
Two Years Before the Mast by Richard Dana takes some beating

Agree wholeheartedly, also Joseph Conrad's factual 'Mirror of the sea', it's available to download on the Gutenberg site:


Likewise, anything by Alan Villiers. Villiers on a roll here:

The Cape Horn Road Part 1 Alan Villiers Film (http://hubpages.com/hub/The_Cape_Horn_Road_Part_1_Alan_Villiers_Film)

6th Feb 2009, 19:17
I'm surprised (did I overlook it ?) that nobody has mentioned:

Sailing Alone Around the World by Joshua Slocum, first published 1900. Slocum was a genius and a true gentleman: wherever his soul might be today, I hope it is at the wheel of the "Spray" on a calm sea with the sun shining....

6th Feb 2009, 21:50
A more modern day account of round the world sailing is "A World Of My Own" by Robin Knox Johnson.....highly recommended.

Another book worth reading is "Billy Ruffian" by David Cordingly. It`s the "biography" (1782-1836) of HMS Bellerophon and is full of fascinating detail of the battles she was involved in as well as her construction on the Medway.

6th Feb 2009, 23:06
For a good read, Aubrey/Maturin can't be beat.
For the feel of having been there, Slocum.

7th Feb 2009, 02:49
I thought O'Brian was the king of the genre! Must check out this Forester guy.

Mish Nish
7th Feb 2009, 04:39
Also, for being there, Eric Newby's "The Last Great Grain Race," and Miles Smeaton's "Once is enough" and "Because the Horn is there."

Newby wasn't a spectacular sailor, but he writes quite well about being a total clot. ;)

There's also an excellent big gushing biography of Miles & Beryl Smeaton by his ?nephew? - can't remember the title, but it's a great read - lots of nautical dramas.

Even better, if you can find it, is a chapter near the end of John Masters's third autobiography, "Pilgrim Son," about sailing down and around the bottom end of South America - a real wee gem, and written with more much more fluidity and heartfelt passion than much of his fiction, for some odd reason.

7th Feb 2009, 08:32
Good stuff, chaps :ok:. I knew I could tap the PPrune knowledge base here. Some I know (Slocum, Newby, Kent) and some I don't. I'm currently particularly interested in fiction of the Napoleonic era, though. Keep it up!

tony draper
7th Feb 2009, 08:51
The last Grain Race, Eric Newby cracking book on the men who worked the Wind Ships:ok:

Howard Hughes
7th Feb 2009, 09:54
'American Practical Navigator' (http://www.amazon.com/American-Practical-Navigator-Bowditch/dp/0939837544) by Nathaniel Bowditch, although a reference book it is a work of art!

Just reading the preface sends chills down my spine, what an amazing man!:ok:

PS: First published in 1802, I picked up a 1947 edition for $5 on Ebay!:eek:

tony draper
7th Feb 2009, 10:14
There was a series of books I read hmmm, probably in the seventies,written by a Welshman who had been a stoker in the Royal Navy,he came ashore in the fifties found Blighty not to his taste,he became a Tramp wandering the country for a while then bought a ships lifeboat and converted it himself to sail and undertook various voyages in same, for the life of me I can't think of he Author or any of the titles, they were library books but I remember enjoying them at the time.

7th Feb 2009, 10:21
Tristan Jones, mentioned earlier.

7th Feb 2009, 10:41
I used to enjoy his writing, up to the point where he wrote about travelling around the Med. Of his stop-off in Naples he wrote a series of little cameos to illustrate the Neapolitan attitude to life. "Hang about" I thought, that all sounds familiar and went and dug out a book of photos and essays called "Napoli Bella Vista" given to me by an Italian friend as I left Naples. And there, in the same order, were all the little cameos he claimed to have witnessed himself. "hmmmmmmmm.........." I thought. It left one with the same feeling you get when you read about something in a newspaper on a subject you know someting about and you KNOW that what is written is rubbish. What about all the stuff you DON'T know a good deal about.... ?
The Ancient Mariner

tony draper
7th Feb 2009, 10:45
Ah yes,thanks, that's the chap,must have missed the earlier post.:ok:

Lon More
7th Feb 2009, 10:53
The link I posted earlier wasn't the best I must admit. Googling further there's a lot more criticism of him. Although I found them interesting in the beginning , at a certain moment I started to find contradictions and went off him. Haven't gone back to them for many years.

re converting the lifeboat, there was a similar story from the 1920s IIRC. Maybe where he got the idea?

tony draper
7th Feb 2009, 11:32
One of the things I found about those types of books ie sailors reminiscing on past adventures they tended to have more than their fair share of artistic embellishment, probably because seafarers tend to be great bullshitters,I remember reading one where the author sails into a cove just in time to witnesses a titanic battle betwixt a giant octopus a forty foot shark and a killer whale, now come on! not even Hollywood would come up with that,don't recall which critter won now.
I also remember thinking summat similar about Mr Jones books when I read them though I as I said I enjoyed them greatly at the time,I suppose we all tend to embellish stories we pass on, tiz human nature I think.

9th Feb 2009, 15:31
Has anyone mentioned Dudley Pope? http://www.fantasticfiction.co.uk/p/dudley-pope/ (http://www.fantasticfiction.co.uk/p/dudley-pope/)

I find that yer man O’brien got himself too involved with the sailing of the ship and very often it’s, sort of, “with one bound, he was free”. That said, I’m working my way through and just started the “Reverse of the Medal”.

20th Feb 2009, 12:27
very often it’s, sort of, “with one bound, he was free” Really can't agree. Aubrey suffers some dire reversals, and indeed, many of the actions described are taken from fact and were accomplished by real-life saillors such as Lord Cochrane.

20th Feb 2009, 12:30
C.S. Forester is a bloody nuisance when you're trying to reseach HMS Forester... :{

Type 'HMS' and 'Forester' into Google and you'll see what I mean.

20th Feb 2009, 12:44
Phrase it "hms forester",Sir, with the quotation marks just so. The results fair flood in.

20th Feb 2009, 14:16
I read nearly all the Forrester books as a boy. I've only recently tried O'Brien, and while I admit they are good, I find the string duets and the spymaster Doctor just too unlikely to be plausible - tho' I agree some of his detail is worth the effort.

The author I personally don't have any time for is Douglas Reeman/Alexander Kent. I read a couple before realising they were the same author, and did so because by the time I reached about the third book I discovered that he has only actually got one plot, and just modifies it by changing settings, names etc.. Personally, I thought him very second rate as an author.

Some of Forester's other stuff is worth looking out for. The Gun is one, Brown on Resolution another.

Whilst here...... I recall as a graduate living in a B7B in Kent next to the public library working my way through a lot of fiction. There was another author they had who concentrated on historical fiction, based around British medieval history, Robert Bruce, James 1st/6th etc. Cannot remember the name, but it may have been a woman. Any suggestions?????

20th Feb 2009, 14:42
Many great authors have been mentioned, but I think Herman Wouk qualifies as well, for 'The Caine Mutiny'. Unforgettable, flesh and blood characters like Queeg, Keifer and co.

Admittedly though, it's probably more 'motoring' than sailing...

I've also found J W Norie's work a cracking good read.