‘English: Twilight, Evening Star and Crescent Moon, with Sailing Ships on the Horizon, Oahu, Hawaii’, 1925, by Lionel Walden (American, 1862–1933)

Most retired sailors, I suppose, would not bother to write and publish a book about the years they spent at sea. Those who do are fortunate. When they kick the bucket, they would have left behind a lasting legacy, not just their DNA.

The following memoirs are recommended reading for anyone who loves nautical books. The narratives are engaging, and they open a window to the maritime past. To present-day readers, they also serve as reminders of the dangers and hardships as well as the joys and fulfillments of the seafaring life.

Title: Recollections of a Sea Wanderer’s Life: An Autobiography of an Old-time Seaman Who has Sailed in Almost Every Capacity Before and Abaft the Mast, in Nearly Every Quarter of the Globe, and Under the Flags of Four of the Principal Maritime Nations

Author: George Davis (born 1821); no other details available

Year published: 1847


Many times have I spied with great interest the white canvas of some vessel while rounding the point of the Isle of Orleans, and watched it until it should “come to” and furl sails abreast of the citadel on Cape Diamond, lower its gig, manned by bronzed seamen, who made the spray fly from their oar blades as they brought their captain ashore. How I gazed with awe at all — captain and sailors — who had brought from remote lands spices, silks, perfumes, and strange-looking fruits. (from Chapter I)

Title: Life on the Mississippi

Author: Mark Twain (1835 – 1910), American humourist, journalist, lecturer, and novelist who was a riverboat pilot on the Mississippi River

Year published: 1883


The face of the water, in time, became a wonderful book — a book that was a dead language to the uneducated passenger, but which told its mind to me without reserve, delivering its most cherished secrets as clearly as if it uttered them with a voice. And it was not a book to be read once and thrown aside, for it has a new story to tell every day. Throughout the long twelve hundred miles there was never a page that was void of interest, never one that you could leave unread without loss, never one that you would want to skip, thinking that you could find higher enjoyment in some other thing. (from Chapter IX: Continued Perplexities)

Title: The Mirror of the Sea

Author: Joseph Conrad (1857 – 1924), Polish-born British novelist, short story writer, and sea captain

Year published: 1906


Nowhere else than upon the sea do the days, weeks, and months fall away quicker into the past. They seem to be left astern as easily as the light air-bubbles in the swirls of the ship’s wake, and vanish into a great silence in which your ship moves on with a sort of magical effect. They pass away, the days, the weeks, the months. Nothing but a gale can disturb the orderly life of the ship; and the spell of unshaken monotony that seems to have fallen upon the very voices of her men is broken only by the near prospect of a Landfall. (from the essay “Landfalls and Departures”)

Title: Home from the Sea

Author: Sir Arthur H. Rostron (1869 – 1940), captain of RMS Carpathia that rescued hundreds of passengers from the Titanic.

Year published: 1931


I wonder whether shore people ever pause to imagine what it is to be months at a time with thirty-odd men, including captain and officers, in the narrow confines of a comparatively small vessel surrounded by the ocean in all its moods. Long days of glassy calm and warm water in the tropics with a blazing red-hot furnace of a sun beating down. Other times with the ocean heaved up into mountains of water—cold at that—tumbling and roaring, each sea seemingly bent on overwhelming the ship. (from Chapter III : Into Steam)

~ Barista Uno

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