Ocean Hermit – sailing, solitude and stories

My plans to retrace Captain Cook's unfinished voyage have been postponed a year while I work on the next Marine Diesel Basics book and get my new boat SV Oceandrifter ready for sea.

How would you respond to a major oil spill?- book review of Hammond Innes’ “The Black Tide”

How would you respond if a major oil spill contaminated miles of your favourite landscape or seascape, and destroyed wildlife and the livelihoods of local people?

What would be your reaction is your wife,  partner or someone you loved was so enraged by the negligence of the corporation and the useless blather of politicians that he or she went out in a small boat with a flame thrower to try to set light to the crude oil before it could comer ashore?

And if, inevitably it might seem, the ensuing explosion and fire killed the person you loved, how would you respond then? Who would you seek to blame, if anyone?  And if you thought the spill was caused deliberately?  This is the premise of Hammond Innes thrilled “The Black Tide”.

‘The Black Tide” was first published in 1982 – just four years after the Amoco Cadiz went aground off Brittainy and released 1,604,000 barrels of light crude oil onto the French coast of Brittainy. At the time this caused the largest kill-off of marine life from an oil spill ever recorded. The amount of oil was 6 times more crude oil than the Exxon Valdez off Alaska. Though the spill was estimated to have have cost $2 billion in damages, the American oil company Amoco  paid  just $175 million in damages.

Hammond Innes was a prolific thriller writer and an accomplished yachtsman. He sailed far and wide with his wife on their yacht Triune of Troy and later in Mary Deare.  Innes was keen to promote sailing to young people and the benefits he thought sailing could bring to a young person’s upbringing. When he died in 1998 he bequeathed the majority of his considerable estate to ASTO (Association of Sail Training Organisations) which is the UK’s National Sail Training Organisation.  Membership is made up of more than 30 not-for-profit organizations operating more than 50 Sail Training vessels around the UK.

When I picked up “The Black Tide” last week in St. Anthony’s public library, in northern Newfoundland, Canada, I didn’t realize we were going to be treated to adventure on the high seas in Prospero – “50-foot long, broad-beamed with broad stern and a sharp bow. She looked like a hugh plastic and chrome dart with a metal mast against which the halyards frapped unceasingly in the wind”.

As you would expect from a seasoned seadog, all the descriptions of the sailing and the sea are convincing. Though it may not seem to make much difference to non-sailors if port and starboard get confused, it’s always a greater pleasure to read something that is factually and technically accurate; like appreciating the aesthetics of a mathmatically perfect archway.

I mention this because I can’t be the only person to have noticed that in the movie “Titanic” the helsman turns the wheel the wrong way to avoid the iceberg.  Take a close look next time you watch the movie.

The story in “The Black Tide” begins on the south coast of England when a crude oil tanker goes aground on Kettle bottom, nor far from Land’s End. The action in the sailboat in Innes’  thriller takes place in the Atlantic nor  far off the west coast of Africa.  I don’t want to say more, without giving away the plot.  i found the story a satisfying read, and not just for the sailing.  His characters and descriptions are well above the standard often found in the thriller genre. After all, a sailboat can’t be sailed by cardboard cutouts.

Not many novels feature sailboats, so I’m always pleased to encounter any that do.  But even if you don’t care at all about the sailing, this thriller’s a good read and an enjoyable way to pass a few hours.


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This entry was posted on October 14, 2011 by in Book Reviews, Sailing and tagged , , .
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