by Horatio Clare)
The second-best thing about writing a book about travels at sea, after circling the globe on giant container ships, is the research. One inspiration was Alistair MacLean’s HMS Ulysses (1955). MacLean survived two Arctic convoys. The product is a gripping, shivering story of endurance in hell.
The Cruel Sea (1951) by Nicholas Monsarrat will bewitch any reader discovering it for the first time. The heroes are the men, the heroines are ships and the only villain is the cruel sea itself.
The sea’s power to reveal and test character is its real attraction for the writer. Joseph Conrad’s least read book, perhaps because of its unfortunate title, is The Nigger of the Narcissus (1897). But it is a plain masterpiece, containing some of the most transcendent writing Conrad ever achieved.
Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick (1851) is wonderfully strange, rich and transporting, and both a comfort and a warning to all who write for a living. On publication the reviewers said it was so bad Melville should have been ashamed of the waste of paper.
There are many supreme sea stories, from Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea to Joshua Slocum’s Sailing Alone Around the World and Erskine Childers’ The Riddle of the Sands, which led the British government to establish a string of naval bases. But my final favourite is A Twist of Sand (1959) by Geoffrey Jenkins, which takes you to Namibia’s Skeleton Coast, perhaps the wildest littoral in all the world, and there binds you in an engrossing mystery.