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Seamanship: A Voyage Along the Wild Coasts of the British Isles Paperback – August 14, 2007


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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

There's much to like in the story of how Nicolson (God's Secretaries: The Making of the King James Bible) finds a sailing partner and a suitable boat and takes to the seas surrounding Ireland and Scotland. And his descriptions of the remote communities he encounters on the voyage are often engaging. Yet Nicolson's narrative of this voyage—which was the basis for an eight-part National Geographic TV series—is saddled with an overabundance of superlatives: it's one thing for a near fatal accident to be caused by "the biggest wave I have ever seen," but Nicolson also encounters "the darkest night," "the loneliest and most entrancing place" and so on. One wishes at times that Nicolson would turn his focus further inward; although he hints at personal tensions between himself and his sailing partner, as well as the strain placed on his marriage by his wanderlust, his slim volume doesn't fully explore these conflicts, instead falling back on slightly more abstract reflections about humans' relationship to the sea. Nicolson's voluntary pilgrimage is a good story, made frustrating by falling just short of being a great story.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Nicolson and a friend, George Fairhurst, sailed up the west coasts of Ireland and Scotland in 2003. The journey, in the 42-foot ketch Auk, took them to the Hebrides, Orkneys, and Faeroes. They were joined by a photographer, an archaeologist, and a film crew. Nicolson, the author of God's Secretaries (2003) and Perch Hill (2000), observes that "the Atlantic-besieged cliffs of the St. Kildan islands, smashed and storm-swept up to 200 feet above the surface of the sea, provide as enormous and powerful a meeting of rock and ocean as you ever find in Britain." Along the way, they saw puffins, gannets, shearwaters, seals, crabs, and a spectacular underwater cave. The book is filled with descriptive passages of the sea, cliffs, and the shoreline. There are passages revealing the anxiety and tedium that sometimes occurred, but Nicolson's love for the sea and his fervor for travel and adventure is evident from the first page to the last. George Cohen
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; 1st PAPERBACK edition (August 14, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060753447
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060753443
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.4 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #475,260 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

17 of 17 people found the following review helpful By RichardL on August 8, 2005
Format: Hardcover
The text recounts a voyage that the author undertakes from the southwest of England, to the Atlantic coast of Ireland, northward to the Hebrides and the Orkneys, and finally to the Faroe Islands.
This is a genuinely annoying book. As others have noted, there is, with a few exceptions, very little description of the lands and coasts traveled to. Mostly the author waxes philosophical about this or that aspect of our relationship with nature, embodied here by the sea. But that's not the problem. The problem is that, ultimately, the author proves to be a very un-admirable individual - someone that you would NOT want to sail with, much less depend on, in challenging circumstances. The real hero of the voyage (in my opnion) is George Fairhurst, an experienced professional sailor whom the author employs to skipper his boat, the Auk. By the end you come to sympathize with Fairhurst's assessment that the author is merely a "plucker": the sort of individual who floats from experience to experience, depending entirely on others to keep the boat sailing (Fairhurst), or the home and family going (the author's wife Sarah), while assuming none of the risk. You may consider it brave of Nicolson to reveal enough about what happened on Auk to allow the reader to form such a negative judgment of him. Personally I find this simply a species of the same instinct that causes him to climb three miles barefoot over sharp rocks to a hilltop holy place, despite being an avowed agnostic. It's self-indulgence masquerading as self-revelation. It's solely about the personal experience, and not about the truth.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on May 28, 2005
Format: Hardcover
SEAMANSHIP is author Adam Nicolson's account of his 1,500-mile voyage along the outer fringes of the British Isles aboard the 42-foot ketch "Auk".

Perhaps I should have realized the thrust of Nicolson's narrative sooner. Indeed, as soon as I opened the front cover, seen the extent of the voyage as depicted on two end page maps, and then noted that this small hardcover is only 177 pages long with relatively large print. I mean, if one is sailing from Falmouth in Cornwall across the Celtic Sea to Ireland's southern tip, then back across to Cornwall, north to southwestern Wales, across the Celtic Sea again, up along Ireland's west coast, across to Scotland, up through the Inner and Outer Hebrides, east to the Orkney Islands, and finally ending far to the northwest in the Faeroes, how much description of so many places can be jammed into such a small space? Disappointingly little, if that's what you're looking for.

Rather than a travelogue in the traditional sense, SEAMANSHIP is more a ruminative consideration of Sailing Man's relationship to the Sea and his Ship, and, in this volume specifically, Adam's success (or not) in manly bonding with the Auk's skipper, George. Nicolson's philosophical bent is well represented by the following passage:

"The nature of the voyage is set before you cast off. A sea passage is shaped by the boat's time attached to the land. Every moment at sea is dependent on, and even twinned to, a moment in harbor. What a boat sails on and in is not only the ocean and the wind but the days, weeks, and months tied up alongside."

And, using a mixed metaphor:

"That is why death at sea is such a casual affair. Death has no need to approach ...
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By S. A. Cartwright on July 18, 2009
Format: Paperback
This son of British aristocrats and inheritor of the family castle has a fine command of the English language, and a prep school mastery of classical literature. Wordsworth, Blake, Auden, Homer...every last rock along the Irish and Scottish coast is adored as exceptional, extraordinary, and peered at through the lens of history, religion and literature. It's a bit as if we've compressed a year-long seafaring adventure around the British Isles into a Great Western Literature series.

Still, as the Brits are wont to do, Nicolson riffs brilliantly from time to time. Describing a skin-diving find of cave-dwelling crabs: "The crabs sat among them, alert and claws raised, hanging there poised, armed and Homeric, each one a toy Achilles with his spear and helmet set among the display cabinets in Cartier's or Tiffany's." At times, the story jumps off the pages...a daring rescue at sea...a brush with death. But just as quickly, we're back slogging through the stuffy, semi-pretentious introspection and forced metaphor.

Though Nicolson gives a half-hearted attempt at soul-searching and introspection, in the end we just don't like him very much. Rather, we fully agree with the sea captain he has hired to keep him alive and sail from Southern England to the northern reaches of the Hebrides and Orkneys. Captain George Fairhurst provides the seamanship, and ultimately decides his employer/chronicler is a mere "plucker", someone who takes life's pleasures as they come and decidedly avoids shouldering the risk. The short novel is replete with Nicolson bounding off the ship to go rock-climbing, scuba diving, strolling about the latest landing, while Fairhurst is deep in the bowels of the diesel engines trying to keep the boat afloat and the whole project alive.

Given the title, I am disappointed Fairhurst didn't essay his experience.
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