Sunday, December 17, 2017

Burning of the Kent

The fire reached the powder magazine and the looked-for explosion took place.  The burning fragments of the vessel were blown high into the air, like so many rockets.

Disaster at Sea
This story is an excerpt from Thrilling Adventures at Sea or Noted Shipwrecks and Famous Sailors, published by Crawford & Company 1885

Burning of the Kent

Whilst on her outward passage, the Kent East Indiaman was burnt, on the 28th of February, 1825, in the Bay of Biscay. She had on board in all six hundred and forty-one persons. An officer on duty during a storm, finding that a spirit-cask in the hold had broken loose, was taking measures to secure it, when a lurch of the ship caused him to drop his lantern, and in his eagerness to save it, he let go the cask, which suddenly stove in, the spirits communicated with the flame, and the whole place was instantly in a blaze. Hopes of subduing the fire at first were strong, but soon heavy volumes of smoke, and a pitchy smell, told that it had reached the cable-room.

Disaster at Sea
Bay of Biscay

In these awful circumstances, the captain ordered the lower decks to be scuttled, to admit water; this was done: several poor seamen being suffocated by the smoke in executing the order; but now a new danger threatened, the sea rushed in so furiously, that the ship was becoming water-logged, and all feared her going down. Betwixt six and seven hundred human beings were by this time crowded on the deck. Many on their knees earnestly implored the mercy of an all-powerful God, while some old stout-hearted sailors quietly seated themselves directly over the powder magazine—expecting an explosion every moment, and thinking thus to put a speedier end to their torture.

In this time of despair, it occurred to the fourth' mate to send a man to the foremast, hoping, but scarce daring to think it probable, that some friendly sail might be in sight. The man at the foretop looked around him; it was a moment of intense anxiety; then waving his hat he cried out, "A sail on the lee bow!"

Those on deck received the news with heart-felt gratitude, and answered with three cheers. Signals of distress were instantly hoisted, and endeavors used to make toward the stranger, while the minute-guns were fired continuously. She proved to be the brig Cambria, Captain Cook, master, bound to Vera Cruz, having twenty Cornish miners, and some agents of the mining company on-board. For about a quarter of an hour, the crew of the Kent doubted whether the brig perceived their signals; but after a period of dreadful suspense, they saw the British colors hoisted, and the brig making toward them.
Disaster at Sea

On this, the crew of the Kent got their boats in readiness the first was filled with women, passengers, and officers' wives, and was lowered into a sea so tempestuous as to leave small hope of their reaching the brig; they did, however, after being nearly swamped through some entanglement of the ropes, getting clear of the Kent, and were safely taken on board the Cambria, which prudently lay at some distance off.

After the first trip, it was found impossible for the boats to come close alongside of the Kent, and the poor women and children suffered dreadfully, in being lowered over the stern into them by means of ropes. Amid this gloomy scene, many beautiful examples occurred of filial and parental affection, and of disinterested friendship; and many sorrowful instances of individual loss and suffering. At length, when all had been removed from the burning vessel, but a few, who were so overcome by fear as to refuse to make the attempt to reach the brig, the captain quitted his ill-fated ship.

The flames, which had spread along her upper deck, now mounted rapidly to the mast and rigging, forming one general conflagration, and lighting up the heavens to an immense distance around. One by one her stately masts fell over her sides. By half-past one in the morning the fire reached the powder magazine; the looked-for explosion took place, and the burning fragments of the vessel were blown high into the air, like so many rockets.
Burning of the Kent
Coat of arms of the East India Company circa 1700

The Cambria, with her crowd of sufferers, made all speed to the nearest port, and reached Portsmouth in safety, shortly after midnight, on the 3rd of March. Wonderful to tell, fourteen of the poor creatures left on the Kent were rescued by another ship, the Caroline, on her passage from Alexandria to Liverpool.

If you enjoy a good Sea Story,
these two salty tales are free on all eReaders:
Amazon KindleApple iBooksBarnes & Noble NookSmashwords and Kobo.

Malcolm Torres is the author of original sea stories and nautical tales

Malcolm Torres is the author of original sea stories and nautical novels.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Horror on the High Seas


A tale of horror aboard the USS Nimitz

Sailors Take Warning a Mystery Thriller aboard the USS Nimitz by Malcolm Torres

Kate Conrad sat in the back of the stacks and watched thousands of books slide an inch over the edges of their shelves, and then the ship rolled the other way and they slid back.  The librarians strung bungee cords to prevent books from falling off and they were working pretty well, but tonight the sea ran rough and every few minutes a book or two, usually a thick hardback, leaped over a rubber cord and tumble to the deck.  She walked over and picked up a book that had fallen.  As she slid it back into its spot, a librarian wearing black plastic-framed glasses entered the row carrying a box of clattering metal rods.
“I’ve never done this before.”  He dropped the box.
“What’s that?” Kate asked.
“Battening down the hatches.”  He pulled a rod from the box and fixed it against the books along one of the shelves.
Kate saw right away how he attached the metal rod to little brackets on each shelf and then removed the bungee cord and tossed it into the box.
“Here, I’ll help you,” Kate said as she pulled a rod from the box and snapped it in place, securing another shelf loaded with books.
“All hands on deck,” the librarian said.
“I wish they’d steer out of this storm,” she said.
She braced herself against the bookshelf as the ship began nosing over.  Her entire body clenched as the compartment seemed to turn over on its side.  Thousands of books slid partway off their shelves—the weight of a million words shoved by a violent ocean, straining against elastic bands.  She felt the weight of the entire stack threatening to topple over and crush her if the ship tilted another inch.
“We better get out of here,” the librarian said, as hundreds of books tumbled over the elastic cords and crashed all around, several knocking them on their heads and shoulders.
Right then the alarm bell rang, and the ship pitched back to almost level.
Kate quickly snapped another metal rods in place.
“I wish I could stick around and help,” she told the librarian, “but I have to respond to this alarm.”
“Be safe,” he said.
Kate bounded over books scattered on the floor and headed out of the library.  In the passageway, she was surprised to hear for the second night in a row, “SECURITY BREACH IN THE AFT WEAPONS MAGAZINE.”

Sailors Take Warning a Mystery Thriller aboard the USS Nimitz by Malcolm Torres

The ship leaned so far over it caused cabinets and drawers to spew their contents.  Fire extinguishers, spanner wrenches, pots and pans and toolboxes—anything not securely stowed—broke loose and rattled about on the deck.
Kate grabbed both railings as the ladder pitched forward and jerked sideways like a rodeo bull.  She tightened her grip and hooked one foot under a rung as she recalled stories about sailors on smaller boats attempting to climb down ladders on rough seas, only to be bucked off and thrown to the deck where they suffered a broken wrist or a concussion.
She wondered why they were calling her to the aft magazine again, especially after Jenks had been shot dead there the previous night.
Music and crowd noise came up from the hangar, and she wondered why the MAA hadn’t shut down the party by now, especially after hitting the crowd with pepper spray and the runway collapsed.
 A standoff between roughnecks in pirate costumes and MAA with their clubs drawn blocked the main deck passageway.
“Make a hole!” Kate shouted, but nobody stepped aside.
A burly MAA held one reveler in a headlock while another MAA tried to cuff him.  Two more MAA had their Tasers drawn, holding the anxious gang at bay.
“Flying Squad,” Kate shouted, “coming through!”
“Move aside,” one of the MAA shouted, waving his Taser.
The fellow in the headlock gave his captor kidney punches and kicked at the woman trying to put the cuffs on him.
As Kate barged into the crowd, she counted a dozen of them and they were dressed more frighteningly than anyone she’d seen earlier at the rally.  Several held swords and knives.
An old-timer in officer’s regalia, including a black tricorn hat, a tattered blue jacket with faded gold trim and a full rack of worn-looking medals, stared at her with flared nostrils and lust in his eyes.  Another man’s scraggly beard hung from ruddy cheeks; the whites of his eyes set off by heavy black mascara.  She pushed through and saw a thick bunch of dreadlocks hanging lopsided from a woman’s head, crawling with silver insects.  A length of wire wove through multiple piercings in one guy’s ear and metal tacks poked out through the sides of his nostrils.

Sailors Take Warning a Mystery Thriller aboard the USS Nimitz by Malcolm Torres

“Excuse me,” Kate said as she shoved through arms with elaborate full-sleeve tattoos.  Many of the faces sneered at the MAA as if itching for a fight.  Nobody on either side was backing down.
A man with dark eyes, deep in wrinkled sockets, his withered cheeks stretched over bulging cheekbones, grabbed Kate and pulled her close.  Face to face, his thin gray lips opened over toothless gums.  On feculent breath, he whispered, “Have you come to play with the dead crew, missy?”
“Let me go!” she yelled and broke free.  The entire gang erupted in laughter.  She stumbled backward.  A hand groped her ass.  She spun away and ran.
She shot a glance over her shoulder just as one of the shirtless derelicts threw a punch at an MAA who fired his Taser.  The fool collapsed in a fit.  His mates hooted like a bunch of schoolchildren who’d never seen a stun gun.
As she ran, Dutro’s warning about a mutiny on the equator skittered across her mind.
A moment later, she arrived in the galley and saw her Flying Squad mates with painted faces, kooky wigs, pirate hats and plastic swords.  A hip-hop hit with a throbbing bass beat pulsed in the hangar above and her worries about the gang scuffling with the MAA dissipated.
O’Malley stood at the center of the team with his reassuring linebacker shoulders and chop-top crewcut.  He held a clipboard and shouted, “There’s no problem, nothing like last night.  The guard just wanted someone to check the lock on the nuke vault, so we’re standing by.”
Kate took a seat and waited.  She thought about how the ship usually rolled fore and aft—up the face of an ocean swell, over the top and down the other side—but not tonight.  A growing unease sloshed in her belly.  The bright blue deck in the dining area heaved and pitched at an odd angle as the ship slid sideways across an unpredictable swell.

Sailors Take Warning a Mystery Thriller aboard the USS Nimitz by Malcolm Torres

She wanted to run back to the library and meet Terrance and find out what had happened, but a dreadful awareness filled her.  Curiosity about everything happening—missing bodies, the rash, warnings of mutiny, seeing Comello, Jenks getting shot, and now for the second night in a row, on the very night the ship arrives on the equator, a security breach called away to the weapons magazine—and it all connected.  A sinister energy fired through the synapses in her brain, connecting seemingly unrelated events.  Static crackled all around her.  Her clothes charged with prickles of electricity like a cheap synthetic blanket just out of the dryer.  A tingling sensation crossed her scalp, a low voltage current charging the roots of her hair.  The follicles on the back of her neck stood up as if she’d swallowed a hot pepper.  She bolted from the chair because she realized that Danny Jenks was dead and his body would certainly be missing from the morgue!
She imagined Jenks’ corpse walking along the main deck passageway, limping, dragging his cast, poop leaking from his diaper.  She almost giggled, but no, she thought, and then easily imagined Jenks as a pirate with a sword, running with that gang she’d seen challenging the MAA.
The deck heaved beneath her, and she reached to grab a pipe running along the bulkhead, but as she did, an electric spark shot from the pipe into her fingers.
“What the fuck?”  She yanked her hand away!
She had to do something and thought about her boss, but knew Sternz wouldn’t be any help in this situation.
She walked quickly to the hatch and went down the ladder into the weapons handling area looking for Fire Marshall O’Malley.

SAILORS TAKE WARNING is on Amazon in paperback and eBook

Sailors Take Warning a Mystery Thriller aboard the USS Nimitz by Malcolm Torres

Malcolm Torres writes sea stories and nautical novels, but they are not like the books your grandfather read.  Mr. Torres does not glorify brave officers and mighty ships.  He writes about common sailors, the deckhands, who work hard and travel the world having adventure and romance in foreign ports.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Aboard a Steel Ship During World War II with C. S. Forester

"A colossal geyser of black mud followed along with the terrific roar of the explosion.  Mud and water rained down on the Apache, drenching everyone on deck, while the little ship leaped frantically in the waves."  Gold From Crete, by C. S. Forester

An excellent collection of sea stories by Gold From Crete by C.S. Forester

A Reading Recommendation: Sea Story

by Malcolm Torres

When you search around for sea stories naturally the Horatio Hornblower collection by C. S. Forester comes up at the top of many lists.  But, I'm not much of a fan of Hornblower and the old tyme wooden-ship sea stories, so naturally when I saw C. S. Forester's collection of WWII stories, Gold From Crete, I snatched it up and read it cover to cover.

What I wonder is:  How did Forester write these stories?  While reading them I simply took it for granted that the author was a Royal Navy officer, but I was quite surprised to find that he did not serve in the Navy at all.  He did server in the British Infantry during WWI, but that does not explain how he wrote such wonderful sea stories.  Forester left England prior to the start of WWII, and lived in California writing sea stories and movie scripts for most of his life.

This collection, Gold From Crete, is written with great authenticity, containing so many small details that one experiences while aboard a ship at sea.  The story puts you aboard the HMS Apache during operations in the Mediterranean during WWII.  There's plenty of action and humor, character development and insights into life aboard a ship during wartime.

World War II Royal Navy Sea Stories

Five of the stories are about the brave crew aboard the HMS Apache, as they barely survive being bombed as they recover the national treasure of gold at the Greek port of Crete.  In one funny, yet hair-raising story, the Apache's captain dons a diving suit to defuse an accidentally dropped depth charge in port at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.  And of course, as any good WWII sea story should, this volume includes an intense hunt for a German submarine, this time with a new high tech sonar system.

There are several stories in this collection that do not take place aboard ships at sea, and we'll forgive Forester for straying from his nautical plots and themes, but these others stories are well worth a read.  They take us into tank battles on the sands of North Africa, a spy story in New York City and a what-if story that ponders what may have happened if Hitler had invaded England.

For those who enjoy good sea stories, especially those aboard a small ship during WWII, Gold From Crete by C. S. Forester is well worth a read.

If you enjoy a good Sea Story,
these two salty tales are free on all eReaders:
Amazon KindleApple iBooksBarnes & Noble NookSmashwords and Kobo.

Free Sea Stories by Malcolm Torres, Disaster at Sea, Crime Thriller

Malcolm Torres is the author of original sea stories.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Alcoholic Sailor With Serious Psychiatric Problems

The sailor with the crack in his skull is, you guessed it, McGlue, our murder-suspect and main character.

McGlue is a sea story about an alcoholic sailor
McGlue by Ottessa Moshfegh (Fence Books)

I spend way too much time in bookstores.  What I do while browsing the displays and stacks is I read the first few pages of any book that looks like it has anything to do with ships and sailors.  If there's a picture of the ocean or waves or a drawing of a ship or a boat on the cover, I read the first few pages.  If the word maritime, sea, navy, sailor, or any reference to anything even vaguely nautical appears on the cover, I crack that book open and lean on the shelf to read a few pages.  While reading, I run through a checklist in the back of my mind.  On that list there are plot elements, themes and character qualities that, over the years, have been ingrained into my gray matter.  On my list are the critical elements that go into a great sea story.

I'm happy to report that McGlue, the slim novella by Ottessa Moshfegh, placed a messy red check mark, a bit like blood splatter, right next to five elements required for a great sea story.  The amazing thing is, I checked these elements off my list while reading the first page:

  - Alcohol-fueled adventure in a foreign port (check)
  - Sexual misconduct (check)
  - Crime (Triple-Check for MURDER!)
  - A sailor shoving off from the pier and heading out to sea with a wicked hangover (check)
  - Main character has a cracked skull and he's still alive (Check! + new item added to my list)

The sailor with the crack in his skull is, you guessed it, McGlue our murder-suspect, main character.

Ships Sailors and Sea Stories

As any reader of this blog knows, I don't go for the types of sea stories that glorify weapons, officers, Naval tradition or politics.  Now, I can go for a bit of each of those, but if these things are wrapped tight around the main plot, I'm out.  This book, has none of that.  Set in the mid 1800s in ports across the Pacific, South America and New England (NY to Boston), the author uses this blurry sort of first person monologue to tell the story.

The plot progresses forward with McGlue tied to a bunk in a locked compartment below decks.  He's being taken back to New England to stand trail for murdering his friend Johnson.  All the while McGlue is flashing back telling the story of his childhood, filled with dreadful mommy-issues.  McGlue and Johnson become best of friends.  They are hobos together, drinking and fighting their way from Boston to New York.  An excellent foundation for a sea-faring bro-mance, by the way.  McGlue and Johnson sign on as deckhands aboard a ship somewhere, maybe it was NY, maybe Baltimore -- it's hard to tell because there's excessive amounts of alcohol involved.  And they aren't drinking beer.  They are not beer-aholics.  No, they are drinking liquor, cheap liquor and lots of it.  All along, Johnson has issues with his father and McGlue with his mother, which fuels the psychiatric subplot.  Periodically we flash to the present where McGlue is bound in the compartment aboard ship.  He's going through some of the most vivid and gut wrenching alcohol detox symptoms I've ever read about.

The sad thing is stories like this are almost never written.  That's why I was happy to find this slim novella about an alcoholic sailor / murder suspect on the shelf at Powell's City of Books here in my home town of Portland, Oregon.

The author, Ottessa Moshfegh, has written for such prestigious publications as The Paris Review and the New Yorker.  Moshfegh creates language and art together in this story.  She leaves me scratching my head (not that there's a crack in my skull) wondering how the hell she wrote this book.  It's authentic, I can tell you.  I've spent years aboard ships, gotten absolutely shitfaced in foreign ports, had friendships that went horribly wrong.  How can Ottessa Moshfegh know about all this.  Has she been in the Merchant Marine, the Navy?  Does she have a hardcore alcoholic sailor in her life?  It makes me wonder?  Perhaps, she is simply a great writer combining a bit of research with the voice of her muse.  Either way, I like Ms. Moshfegh.  I will be on the lookout for her books, especially if she stumbles into writing another sea story.

McGlue, by Ottessa Moshfegh, (118 pages) is published by Fence Books and received the Believer Book Award.

If you enjoy a good Sea Story, 
these two salty tales are free on all eReaders:

US Navy Sea Story, United States Coast Guard Sea Story, Disaster at Sea, Crime Thriller
Malcolm Torres is the author of original sea stories and nautical novels.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Science Fiction at the Bottom of the Ocean

If you love gritty sea stories and grungy sci-fi, you'll love LOW.

Graphic Novel Series:  LOW, by Rick Remender & Greg Tocchini 

Review Excerpts from around the web:

"I found myself reading all the dialogue first, and then letting my eyes go back over the pages slowly to take in everything. The sense of scale was never lost on me. The cities were huge yet ultimately finite. The oceans vast, dark, and foreboding, and full of unknown dangers." Patrick Hester, Kirkus

"Greg Tocchini’s artwork has a different kind of style to it, which looks good when it comes to putting together some eye catching imagery or covers. The underwater scenes, sea creatures, and some of the futuristic technology looks amazing at points; the scene where Sel and Marik swim through the ocean is absolutely gorgeous. It’s a great combination of pencils and paint-like coloring."  Jordan Richards, Adventures in Poor Taste

"Be warned, though: Low isn't for the faint of heart. There's a lot of sex, swearing and violence that may turn some readers away. Any who are willing to continue will continue until the final page and find themselves rewarded by a story that is much more that it first appears to be; a moral tale of how hope can prevail through even the darkest of times." Alister Davison, Starburst

If you enjoy a good Sea Story, these two salty tales are free on all eReaders:

Malcolm Torres is the author and editor of sea stories and nautical fiction.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

The Wreck of the Medusa

"The heavens were overspread with black clouds; the winds unchained, raised the sea mountains high; terror again rode triumphant on the billow; dashed from side to side, now suspended betwixt life and death," M. Savigne

This is an excerpt from


Published by Charles Gaylord, Boston, 1840

The Wreck of the Medusa

In July, 1816, the French frigate the Medusa was wrecked on the coast of Africa, when part of the ship's company took to their boats; and the rest, to the number of one hundred and fifty, had recourse to a raft hastily lashed together.  In two hours after pushing off for the shore, the people in the boats had the cruelty to bear away and leave the raft, already laboring hard amid the waves, and alike destitute of provisions, and instruments for navigation, to shift for itself.  "From the moment," says M. Sevigne, from whose affecting narrative this account is chiefly taken, “that I was convinced of our being abandoned, I was strongly impressed with the crowd of dark and horrible images that presented themselves to my imagination; the torments of hunger and thirst, the almost positive certainty of never more seeing my country or friends, composed the painful picture before my eyes; my knees sunk under me, and my hands mechanically sought for something to lay hold on; I could scarcely articulate a word.  This state soon had an end, and then all my mental faculties revived.  Having silenced the tormenting dread of death, I endeavored to pour consolation into the hearts of my unhappy companions, who were almost in a state of stupor around me.  No sooner, however, were the soldiers and sailors roused from their consternation, than they abandoned themselves to excessive despair, and cried furiously out for vengeance on those who had abandoned them; each saw his own ruin inevitable, and clamorously vociferated the dark reflections that agitated him."  Some persons of a finer character joined with M. Sevigne in his humane endeavors to tranquilize the minds of these wretched sufferers; and they at last partially succeeded, by persuading them that they would have an opportunity in a few days of revenging themselves on the people in the boats.  "I own," says M. Sevigne, "this spirit of vengeance animated every one of us, and we poured vollies of curses on the boat's crew, whose fatal selfishness exposed us to so many evils and dangers.  We thought our sufferings would have been less cruel, had they been partaken by the frigate's whole crew.  Nothing is more exasperating to the unhappy, than to think that those who plunged them into misery, should enjoy every favor, of fortune."

After the first transports of passion had subsided, the sole efforts of their more collected moments were directed to the means of gaining the land, to procure provision.  All that they had on board the raft, consisted of twenty-five pounds of biscuit and some hogs heads of wine.  The imperious desire of self-preservation silenced every fear for a moment; they put up a sail on the raft, and every one assisted with a sort of delirious enthusiasm; not one of them foresaw the real extent of the peril by which they were surrounded.

The day passed on quietly enough; but night at length came on; the heavens were overspread with black clouds; the winds unchained, raised the sea mountains high; terror again rode triumphant on the billow; dashed from side to side, now suspended betwixt life and death, bewailing their misfortune, and though certain of death, yet struggling with the merciless elements ready to devour them, the poor castoffs longed for the coming morn, as if it had been the sure harbinger of safety and repose.  Often was the last doleful ejaculation heard of some sailor or soldier weary of the struggle, rushing into the embrace of death.  A baker and two young cabin boys, after taking leave of their comrades, deliberately plunged into the deep.  "We are off," said they, and instantly disappeared.  Such was the commencement of that dreadful insanity which we shall afterwards see raging in the most cruel manner, and sweeping off a crowd of victims.  In the course of the first night, twelve persons were lost from the raft.

"The day coming on," says M. Sevigne, "brought back a little calm amongst us; some unhappy persons, however, near me, were not come to their senses.  A charming young man, scarcely sixteen, asked me every moment, 'When shall we eat?' He stuck to me, and followed me everywhere, repeating the same question.  In the course of the day, Mr. Griffen threw himself into the sea, but I took him up again.  His words were confused; I gave him every consolation in my power, and endeavored to persuade him to support courageously every privation we were suffering.  But all my care was unavailing; I could never recall him to reason; he gave no sign of being sensible to the horror of our situation.  In a few minutes he threw himself again into the sea; but by an effort of instinct, held to a piece of wood that went be yond the raft, and he was taken up a second time."

The Raft of the Medusa, Théodore Gericault, 1819 (The Louvre, Paris, France)

The hope of still seeing the boats coming to their succor, enabled them to support the torments of hunger during this second day; but as the gloom of night returned, and every man began, as it were, to look in upon himself, the desire of food rose to an ungovernable height; and ended in a state of general delirium.  The greater part of the soldiers and sailors, unable to appease the hunger that preyed upon them, and persuaded that death was now in evitable took the fatal resolution of softening their last moments by drinking of the wine, till they could drink no more.  Attacking a hogshead in the center of the raft, they drew large libations from it; the stimulating liquid soon turned their delirium into frenzy; they began to quarrel and fight with one another; and ere long, the few planks on which they were floating, between time and eternity, became the scene of a most bloody contest for momentary pre-eminence.  No less than sixty-three men lost their lives on this unhappy occasion.

Shortly after, tranquility was restored.  "We fell," says M. Sevigne, "into the same state as before: this insensibility was so great, that next day I thought myself waking out of a disturbed sleep, asking the people round me if they had seen any tumult, or heard any cries of despair? Some answered, that they too had been tormented with the same visions, and did not know how to explain them.  Many who had been most furious during the night, were now sullen and motionless, unable to utter a single word.  Two or three plunged into the ocean, coolly bidding their companions farewell; others would say.  'Don't despair; I am going to bring you relief; you shall soon see me again.'  Not a few even thought themselves on board the Medusa, amidst everything they used to be daily surrounded with.  In a conversation with one of my comrades, he said to me, 'I cannot think we are on a raft; I always suppose myself on board our frigate.'  My own judgment, too, wandered on these points.  M. Correard imagined himself going over the beautiful plains of Italy.  M. Griflen said' very seriously, 'I remember we were forsaken by the boats; but never fear, I have just written to Government, and in a few hours we shall be saved.'  M. Correard asked quite as seriously, 'and have you then a pigeon to carry your orders so fast?'"

It was now the third day since they had been abandoned, and hunger began to be most sharply felt; some of the men, driven to desperation, at length tore off the flesh from the dead bodies that covered the raft, and devoured it.  "The officers and passengers," says M. Sevigne, "to whom I united myself, could not overcome the repugnance inspired by such horrible food; we however tried to eat the belts of our sabres and cartouch boxes, and succeeded in swallowing some small pieces; but we were at last forced to abandon these expedients, which brought no relief to the anguish caused by total abstinence."

In the evening they were fortunate enough to take nearly two hundred flying fishes, which they shared immediately.  Having found some gunpowder, they made a fire to dress them, but their portions were so small, and their hunger so great, that they added human flesh, which the cooking rendered less disgusting; the officers were at last tempted to taste of it.  The horrid repast was followed with another scene of violence and confusion; a second engagement took place during the night, and in the morning only thirty persons were left alive on the fatal raft.  On the fourth night, a third fit of despair swept off fifteen more; so that, finally, the number of miserable beings was reduced from one hundred and fifty, to fifteen.

"A return of reason," says M. Sevigne, "began now to enlighten our situation.  I have no longer to relate the furious actions dictated by dark despair, but the unhappy state of fifteen exhausted creatures reduced to frightful misery.  Our gloomy thoughts were fixed on the little wine that was left, and we con templated with horror the ravages which despair and want had made amongst us.  'You are much altered,' said one of my companions, seizing my hand, and melting into tears.  Eight days torments had rendered us no longer like ourselves, At length, seeing ourselves so reduced, we summoned up all our strength, and raised a kind of stage to rest ourselves upon.  On this new theatre we resolved to wait death in a becoming manner.  We passed some days in this situation, each concealing his despair from his nearest companion.  Misunderstanding, however, again took place, on the tenth day after being on board the raft.  After a distribution of wine, several of our companions conceived the idea of destroying themselves after finishing the little wine that remained.  'When people are so wretched as we,' said they, 'they have nothing to wish for but death.’  We made the strongest remonstrances to them; but their diseased brains could only fix on the rash project which they had conceived; a new contest was therefore on the point of commencing, but at length they yielded to our remonstrances.  Many of us, after receiving our small portion of wine, fell into a state of intoxication, and then great misunderstandings arose.

"At other times we were pretty quiet, and sometimes our natural spirits inspired a smile in spite of the horrors of our situation.  Says one, 'If the brig is sent in search of us, let us pray to God to give her the eyes of Argus,' alluding to the name of the vessel which we supposed might come in search of us.

"The 17th in the morning, thirteen days after being forsaken, while each was enjoying the delights of his poor portion of wine, a captain of infantry perceived a vessel in the horizon, and announced it with a shout of joy.  For some moments we were suspended between hope and fear.  Some said, they saw the ship draw nearer; others, that it was sailing away.  Unfortunately, these last were not mistaken, for the brig soon disappeared.  From excess of joy, we now sunk into despair.  For my part, I was so accustomed to the idea of death, that I saw it approach with indifference.  I had remarked many others terminate their existence without great outward signs of pain; they first became quite delirious, and nothing could appease them; after that, they fell into a state of imbecility that ended their existence, like a lamp that goes out for want of oil.  A boy twelve years old, unable to support these privations, sunk under them, after our being forsaken.  All spoke of this fine boy as deserving a better fate; his angelic face, his melodious voice, and his tender years, inspired us with the tenderest compassion, for so young a victim devoted to so frightful and untimely a death.  Our oldest soldiers, and, indeed, every one, eagerly assisted him as far as circumstances permitted.  But, alas! it was all in vain; neither the wine, nor any other consolation, could save him, and he expired in M. Coudin's arms.  As long as he was able to move, he was continually running from one side of the raft to the other, calling out for his mother, for water, and for food.

"About six o'clock, on the 17th, one of our companions looking out, on a sudden stretching his hands forwards, and scarcely able to breathe, cried out, ' Here's the brig almost alongside;' and, in fact, she was actually very near.  We threw ourselves on each other's necks with frantic transports, while tears trickled down our withered cheeks.  She soon bore upon us within pistol shot, sent a boat, and presently took us all on board.  We had scarcely escaped, when some of us became delirious again; a military officer was going to leap into the sea, as he said, to take up his pocket book; and would certainly have done so, but for those about him; others were affected in the same manner, but in a less degree.

"Fifteen days after our deliverance, I felt the species of mental derangement which is produced by great misfortunes; my mind was in a continual agitation, and during the night, I often awoke, thinking myself still on the raft; and many of my companions experienced the same effects.  One Francois became deaf, and remained for a long time in a state of idiotism.  Another frequently lost his recollection; and my own memory, remarkably good before this event, was weakened by it in a sensible manner.

"At the moment in which I am recalling the dreadful scenes to which I have been witness, they present themselves to my imagination like a frightful dream.  All those horrible scenes from which I so miraculously escaped, seem now only as a point in my existence.  Restored to health, my mind sometime recalls those visions that tormented it, during the fever that consumed it.  In those dreadful moments we were certainly attacked with a cerebral fever, in consequence of excessive mental irritation.  And even now, sometimes in the night, after having met with any disappointment, and when the wind is high, my mind recalls the fatal raft.  I see a furious ocean ready to swallow me up; hands uplifted to strike me, and the whole train of human passions let loose; revenge, fury, hatred, treachery, and despair, surrounding me!"

If you enjoy a good Sea Story . . . 

these two salty tales are free on all eReaders:

Amazon KindleApple iBooksBarnes & Noble NookSmashwords and Kobo.

Malcolm Torres is the author and editor of sea stories and nautical fiction.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Reading Recommendation: The North Water by Ian McGuire

"The North Water, Ian McGuire’s savage new novel about a 19th-century Arctic whaling expedition, is a great white shark of a book — swift, terrifying, relentless and unstoppable." NY Times

A Review of 


As you know, I love a great sea story, but it's only once every few years that a great new one comes along.  For this reason, I'm always on the look out for a nautical yarn that will hit me like a punch in the gut.  Not that I like to be punched in the gut--I mean this metaphorically.  When I read a book, especially a sea story, I want it leave a dent in my hull.  So, for me, a former Navy sailor who likes a powerful rush, I greatly enjoy reading tales of adventure, crime, violence, horror, saucy romance and thrills, preferably set aboard a ship at sea or among sailors visiting a port of call.  Today, I'm happy to report that THE NORTH WATER by Ian McGuire meets all my requirements for a great sea story.

I knew right away I was going to buy and read this book after opening it at the book store and reading the first paragraph.  We have one of the main characters emerging from an alley, "he rubs his bristled head, and readjusts his crotch.  He sniffs his fingers, then slowly sucks each one in turn, drawing off the last remnants, getting his final money's worth."  And, of course, I'm standing there in the book store wondering if this character has just paid for a meal or a whore, and what residue exactly is he sucking from his fingers?  I liked the fact that the author was doing nasty things to my mind and for this reason I decided immediately to purchase and read this book.  The answer to the question:  What was the character licking from his fingers? is not answered, but it doesn't matter because the character, Henry Drax, quickly becomes so much more horrifying with each ensuing sentence.

After that initial shock, the author delivers plenty of dents and scratches to the reader's imagination as the voyage of this story runs along.  Without giving away any spoilers, here's an excerpt from one of the book's many glowing reviews:

“The North Water,” Ian McGuire’s savage new novel about a 19th-century Arctic whaling expedition, is a great white shark of a book — swift, terrifying, relentless and unstoppable.  It is also as epically bloody as a Jacobean drama or a Cormac McCarthy novel.  One man has his head bashed with a brick, and “there is a fine spray of blood and a noise like a wet stick snapping.”  Another is bludgeoned with a piece of whalebone.  A sailor is nearly decapitated with a saw blade.  Two boys are raped and murdered.  Two Eskimo hunters are killed while they sleep.  And an oarsman’s arm is ripped off by a polar bear." (NY Times Book Review, by Michiko Kakutani)

Continuing along in the spirit of this NY Times review, I'll tell you (without spoilers) that there are countless things the author sets on the page that are blatantly objectionable.  In addition to those actions mentioned above, The North Water describes drunkenness, whoring about, several surgeries performed without anesthesia, the killing of adorable and endangered animals, double crossing bad guys, shipwrecks, near death experiences, no-strings-attached sex with a married Eskimo woman, and many putrid odors.  Quite a few authors attempt to write about these sorts of things, but most authors lack the literary chops to pull it off successfully.  For example, consider the difference between an Oscar winning film (say John Travolta in Pulp Fiction) and a B-rated flick (say John Travolta in Be Cool).  Well, now that you have those films in mind, please understand that Ian McGuire's The North Water is an Oscar winner written for the big screen inside your mind.

"Here's the description copied off the book's Amazon description page for the recently-released paperback (this hooked me right way):

Behold the man: stinking, drunk, and brutal. Henry Drax is a harpooner on the Volunteer, a Yorkshire whaler bound for the rich hunting waters of the arctic circle.  Also aboard for the first time is Patrick Sumner, an ex-army surgeon with a shattered reputation, no money, and no better option than to sail as the ship's medic on this violent, filthy, and ill-fated voyage.

In India, during the Siege of Delhi, Sumner thought he had experienced the depths to which man can stoop.  He had hoped to find temporary respite on the Volunteer, but rest proves impossible with Drax on board.  The discovery of something evil in the hold rouses Sumner to action.  And as the confrontation between the two men plays out amid the freezing darkness of an arctic winter, the fateful question arises: who will survive until spring?

With savage, unstoppable momentum and the blackest wit, Ian McGuire's The North Water weaves a superlative story of humanity under the most extreme conditions."

So there you have it, all the ingredients that make for a wonderful sea story!  Now, as I summarize my review, just in case there remains any doubt, let's be absolutely clear that this book is for readers who enjoy rough characters in harsh environments committing brutal acts of violence.  Supporting this thesis, the settings include harbor towns in England and isolated bays east of Greenland.  Further, the characters are all the lowliest whalers living aboard a wooden ship on an ill-fated voyage.  All this the author sets down on the page in such a way as to make you shiver in the biting cold as you come to know all the sleazy characters personally.  Best of all, every grimy scene is described with exacting precision and literary artistry.

After reading this tale in only 3-days, I slipped it onto my book shelf right between two similar favorites; Jack London's Sea Wolf and Donald Ray Pollock's The Devil All the Time.

If you enjoy a good Sea Story . . . 

these two salty tales are free on all eReaders:

Amazon Kindle, Apple iBooks, Barnes & Noble Nook, Smashwords and Kobo.

Malcolm Torres is the author and editor of sea stories and nautical fiction.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

A Book of Sea Stories by Cyrus Townsend Brady

"The reason we love the sea . . . is this Homeric spirit of the Ocean Masters that tills the dreams of youth and stirs the memories of old age."


by Cyrus Townsend Brady

MOST of us have passed through a period of life during which we have ardently longed to be, if not actually a rover, a buccaneer, or a pirate, at least and really a sailor!  To run away to sea has been the misdirected ambition of many a youngster, and some lads there are who have realized their desire to their sorrow.  The boy who has not cherished in his heart and exhibited in his actions at sometime or other during his youthful days, a love of ships and salt water, is fit for — well, he is fit for the shore, and that is the worst thing a sailor could say about him!

The virile nations, the strong peoples, are those whose countries border on the sea. They who go down to the great deep in ships are they who master the world.  On the ocean as well as on the mountain top dwells the spirit of freedom.  When men have struggled with each other in the shock of war, or the emulation of peace, when they have matched skill against skill, strength to strength, courage with courage, the higher quality of manhood in each instance has been required upon the sea;  for there the sharp contention has been not only between man and man but between nature and man as well.  A double portion of heroic spirit is needed to meet the double demand.  That is the reason we love the sea. It is this Homeric spirit of the Ocean Masters that tills the dreams of youth and stirs the memories of old age.

In these dreams and memories the veriest boy catches glimpses of the perpetual Titanic struggle of, and on, the deep; dimly discerning in his youthful way, a thousand generations of heroic achievement before, and through which, he begins to be; and he realizes that the ocean affords such a field for the exhibition of every high quality that goes to make a man as may be found nowhere else.  The deck of the ship is the arena upon which he can play a mighty part, and he loves it.  In imagination the boy now discovers a new world, like Columbus and America;  in dreams he opens a vast empire to civilization, like Perry in Japan;  sometimes he fights the battles of the free, like Nelson at Trafalgar;  or he strikes for his own flag on the decks of some gallant Constitution.  If he be a sports man, he may pursue the great fighting sperm-whale, or angle for Jack Sharkee;  if an adventurer, he may seek to pierce the icy barrier of mystery ringed about that polar star by which he guides his ship;  if a trader, he may visit strange lands and seek new markets for his product;  if a missionary, he may carry his gospel of good tidings to dark peoples, ignorant of the meaning of that southern cross which flashes in splendor above them in the midnight heavens, and tell to them the story of the Ruler of the deep.  Wherever men achieve and do, wherever nations grow and prosper, they have a mastery of the sea.

In these pages are gathered stories of the heroes of peace, not less kings of the sea than those who have startled the mighty depths with the thunder of their war-ship guns.  The freshness, the freedom of it, the joy and delight, the calm and rest, the strenuous life, the labor and sorrow, the peril and danger, the reward and success, all are here. We turn back some hundred years to go a-cruising with Cleveland.  We hunt the cachelot with Bullen.  Our own Cooper takes us breathless with the romantic Pilot over the dangers of the Devil's Grip.  Under the Antarctic Circle we watch the sea lions play. Here a mighty monster of the hideous depths seems to spread its tentacles across the printed page in a struggle which Victor Hugo immortalizes.  Flame and smoke are those deadliest of perils to ships toward which gentle Jean Ingelow conducts us.  The sudden mutiny, the long cruise in the small boat, the lonely islet affording the shipwrecked a haven, appeal to us in these pages.  We drift through the teeming waters of the Gulf Stream.  Daniel DeFoe, and Melville and Marryat and Cupples and Russell and Kingston, unroll before us the panorama of the ocean.  There are also men great in other fields of letters who have felt the witchery of the sea and tell us what it says to them — Charles Dickens, Pierre Loti, Stevenson, Charles Reade, and Kingsley.  We envy the boy or girl who reads these tales for the first time.  Fain would we again enjoy such a happy privilege.  And our envy deepens when we think of the wide range of literature to which this volume will introduce them. Lucky young people who open such pages for a first glance!

A Book of Sea Stories is free on Google Books on this link here.

Two Free Sea Stories
by Malcolm Torres

If you enjoy a good Sea Story, these two salty tales are free on this link right here.  These stories are free on all eReaders, including Amazon Kindle, Apple iBooks, Barnes & Noble Nook, Smashwords and Kobo:

Malcolm Torres is the author and editor of sea stories and nautical fiction.