Dear visitor and (potential) reader, welcome to my site and my blog.
This is the belated first of what I hope to be many entries commenting on whales, whaling, and literary and environmental issues. I invite interested parties to join in and send me e-mails and links and help generate an exciting dialog.
A few words of introduction. What began as a fascination for kayaking around and watching whales has now blossomed into a 400 plus page book. The Lost Fleet represents the end of a long personal journey, some seven years in duration, and it is with both regret and delight I put the book at the disposal of the reading public. Any book of this size is both a companion and drag to the writer trying to complete it. The book stays fixed in his mind day and night: It is both his gloomiest damnation and his most blissful redemption. Sometimes it seems as if he cannot go any further, that the next word is like a dollar to be hoarded, and the enterprise is unendurable. The next moment, he is spinning out his yarn with ease and it seems as if he can go forever and never wants the joy of the story-telling to end. The experience, I believe, is similar to hanging on to a pendulum that swings with no particular rhythm from heaven to hell. It took me about twice as long as the average whaling voyage to finish this–but, in any case, the book is done.
In the story, we follow Thomas and Eliza from their youths in Connecticut where they met and fell in love and married, all through their voyages together, the births and deaths of their children, to the end of Yankee whaling. I was a greenhorn when I started, but now feel as if I were an old salt. I’ve learned that the Yankee whalers–and the other mariners, Hawaiians, Cape Verdeans, Azoreans, Africans, to name a few others who sailed with them–were a different breed of men and women. Stronger, tougher, and much less dependent on technology, what they lacked by way of electricity and communications gadgets and tools they compensated for with brawn, skill, and sheer courage. Every day they performed great tasks with both boldness and skill to survive on that most inhospitable of environments, the ocean that wraps the planet in its wet and life-sustaining girdle.
These men and women, heroes and heroines in so many ways, lived life more intensely and vividly than we do. Their lives were shorter than ours, and they were less addicted to enervating and superfluous luxuries such as cars and dishwashers. They lacked the electronic-powered entertainments that have distributed junk songs and movies en masse to reshape our minds into those of illiterate idiots. When they spoke, they had a pure clean nautically-flavored English that in its own simple way is as beautiful and expressive as the finest poetry. They could mean just what they said in a way that seems impossible now, our vocabularies are so polluted with sports junk, and empty near-meaningless phrases.
Their lives were mini-epics. Whaling men survived for months if not years alone on the sea, killing whales, fighting bad weather, running from pirates, and sailing ever onwards to fill their holds. They even performed their own surgeries–one tough master from Nantucket supervised the amputation of his own leg without anesthetics of antibiotics. I’ve developed a great reverence for the Old Yankee Whalers and what they achieved–both good and bad. Our oceans, scoured of several species of whales, is a testimony to their prowess.
In this story, we visit the major whaling ports of the 19th century: New Bedford, a rich gem of a city, then as now, working for a living from the ocean; and Nantucket, the small sandy island doomed to decay and reinvention as a refuge for the rich. We sojourn to rowdy and expanding San Francisco and Honolulu, and to Japan, Siberia, and Alaska, and many other places. Major figures of history step in: Raphael Semmes, Jefferson Davis, Frederick Douglass, Gideon Welles, and more. We see men and whales killed, fortunes made and lost, ships wrecked, the twists and turns of nature, human treachery and faithfulness. Above all, we get to know a man and woman and their enduring love over decades oceans and continents.
Thanks for your indulgence. I extend to you my warmest invitation to take a voyage on the pages of the Lost Fleet and be as thrilled, amazed and amused as I was. I only hope you enjoy reading this book half as much as I enjoyed writing it. Part of me remains with the Williamses in their century, on their ship, and absorbed in their story.