Who better to write about the sea and sailors than a man of letters who had been a ship captain? Joseph Conrad, a Polish author who wrote in English, is regarded as one of the greatest writers in the English language. He served for 16 years in the British merchant marine, assuming his first command in 1888 at the age of 31 — the three-masted iron barque Otago.

[Learn more about Joseph Conrad’s life and writings here.]

The following excerpts from Conrad’s works should resonate with today’s sea captains. They show his skill as a storyteller; his understanding of human nature; and, not least of all, his love for the sea

I may safely say that through the blind force of circumstances the sea was to be all my world and the merchant service my only home for a long succession of years.

Joseph Conrad, Preface to A Personal Record (1912)

Jukes was uncritically glad to have his captain at hand. It relieved him as though that man had, by simply coming on deck, taken most of the gale’s weight upon his shoulders. Such is the prestige, the privilege, and the burden of command.

— Joseph Conrad, Typhoon (1902)

Some commanders of ships take their Departure from the home coast sadly, in a spirit of grief and discontent. They have a wife, children perhaps, some affection at any rate, or perhaps only some pet vice, that must be left behind for a year or more.

— Joseph Conrad, The Mirror of the Sea (1924)

A man’s real life is that accorded to him in the thoughts of other men by reason of respect or natural love.

— Joseph Conrad, Under Western Eyes (1911)

A man is a worker. If he is not that he is nothing.

— Joseph Conrad, Notes on Life and Letters (1921)

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It is not the clear-sighted who lead the world. Great achievements are accomplished in a blessed, warm mental fog.

— Joseph Conrad, Victory: An Island Tale (1915)

To see! to see! — this is the craving of the sailor, as of the rest of blind humanity. To have his path made clear for him is the aspiration of every human being in our beclouded and tempestuous existence.

— Joseph Conrad, The Mirror of the Sea (1906)

The sea, perhaps because of its saltness, roughens the outside but keeps sweet the kernel of its servants’ soul. The old sea; the sea of many years ago, whose servants were devoted slaves and went from youth to age or to a sudden grave without needing to open the book of life, because they could look at eternity reflected on the element that gave the life and dealt the death.

— Joseph Conrad, An Outcast of the Island (1896)

Ah! The good old time — the good old time. Youth and the sea. Glamour and the sea! The good, strong sea, the salt, bitter sea, that could whisper to you and roar at you and knock your breath out of you.

— Joseph Conrad, Youth (1898)

My whole being was steeped deep in the indolence of a sailor away from the sea, the scene of never-ending labour and of unceasing duty. For utter surrender to in indolence you cannot beat a sailor ashore when that mood is is on him—the mood of absolute irresponsibility tasted to the full.

— Joseph Conrad, A Personal Record (1912)

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