“Down to the Sea in Ships” by Horatio Clare

For millennia, the seaways have carried our goods, cultures and ideas, the terrors of war and the bounties of peace. Today our lives depend on shipping, but it is a world which passes largely unconsidered. Out of sight, in every lonely corner of every sea, through every imaginable weather, tiny crews of seafarers work the giant ships which keep landed life afloat. These ordinary men (and they are mostly men) live extraordinary lives, subject to pressures we know – families, relationships, dreams and fears – and to dangers we can only imagine, from hurricanes and pirates to years of confinement in hazardous, if not hellish, environments.

Horatio Clare joins two container ships, travelling in the company of their crews and captains. Together they experience unforgettable journeys: the first, from East to West (Felixstowe to Los Angeles, via Suez) is rich with Mediterranean history, torn with typhoon nights and gilded with an unearthly Pacific peace; the second northerly passage from Antwerp to Montreal, reeks of diesel, wuthers with gales and goes to frozen regions of the North Atlantic, in deep winter where the sea itself seems haunted.

A beautiful and terrifying portrait of the oceans and their human subjects, and a fascinating study of big business afloat, Down to the Sea in Ships is a moving tribute to those who live and work on the great waters far from land.

Down to the Sea in Ships: Of Ageless Oceans and Modern Men by Horatio Clare is published by Chatto and Windus in 2014.

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