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I have to disclose that I know Rick Spilman and consider him a friend. His status as a waterblogger he has already established. He has been–as evidenced by second foto second from right)–an active participant in Ear Inn waterblogger gatherings. When I learned Rick had published a novel, I wanted to find some uninterrupted time to read it. I found it today: a cold gray day with a soft couch and a warm but grouchy cat [which you can see if you click on the foto below].
In about three hours, I raced through this very satisfying book. Chapter 1 begins in 1928 in Montevideo and returns there in Chapter 17 . . . a framing device that pays tribute to the best of all tellers of salty tales, Joseph Conrad. In between Spilman the novelist tells a compelling tale of the 1905 voyage of Lady Rebecca from Cardiff to Chile, a five-month journey for the 309′ x 44′ windjammer carrying 4000 tons of coal. Reminiscent of my favorite sea story Moby Dick, the 1905 account begins with the arrival the youngest and greenest crew member, Apprentice Will Jones, age 14. Spilman details the characters carefully as they sign on, jump ship, get replaced by crimps; deftly setting up conflicts. A third person omniscient narrator captures the fine points of the crew and vessel. And excerpts from letters written by Mary Barker, wife of the Captain, recount other aspects of the voyage related to her family and nature on the high seas. In fact, the title of the novel comes from one of her letters: Once I return to England, it is my intention to never again go to sea. … I have truly seen hell around the Horn, and if it is within my power, I shall stay happily ashore henceforth.”
Half the pages of the novel recount the tale of that hell, taking on the Westerlies of 1905 as they threatened to defeat Lady Rebecca and crew. The American crew member–Fred Smythe, who’d arrived in Cardiff via a Kennebec barque sailing out of the sixth boro’s own South Street–repeats a line he’d once heard at a Liverpool pub: “There ain’t no law below 40 south latitude. Below 50 south, there’s no God.”
Hell Around the Horn . . . read it for yourself the next time you have a few hours free and need a great sea story. A bonus is the author’s notes in the back pages, one of which reveals the single degree of separation between Rick Spilman himself and the captain of the vessel upon which Lady Rebecca is based. Bravo, Rick. It’s high time we conduct some more business at Ear Inn.
Click here for a previous book review from about three years ago.