REVIEW by Megan Welsh

NWR Issue 104

Down to the Sea in Ships: Of Ageless Oceans and Modern Men

by Horatio Clare

And let them sacrifice the sacrifices of thanksgiving, and
declare his works with rejoicing.
They that go down to the sea
in ships, that do business in great waters;
These see the works of the Lord, and his wonders in the deep.

Psalm 107: 22-24

Invited aboard by the Danish shipping company, Maersk, Horatio Clare sets sail into his childhood dream of life at sea, a dream that soon meets the modern realities of cargo shipping. Down to the Sea in Ships is his account of the experience, and opens a window into an almost unfathomable world, equal parts hellish and wondrous. While here there may not be monsters, there is still monstrosity: ships bigger than some cities and giant machinery dwarf their human operators, sailors struggle with isolation and brutal contracts, and modern life – including DVD players, patchy BlackBerry coverage, and company-wide no-alcohol policies – collide with the seafarers’ traditional rite-of-passage tattoos and cautious superstitions (no whistling onboard, insist Clare’s shipmates). Down to the Sea circles this immensity, often resorting to lists to frame the sheer scope of the industry: ships’ sizes and money spent, disparity between company profits and workers’ wages, goods transported, hours worked, kilometres travelled, ports reached, months spent at sea and hours in customs, fuel burned, food consumed. We are, Clare reminds us, only a few ships away from empty shelves...

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previous review: Wingspan
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