Customer Reviews: Hell Around the Horn
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on August 24, 2012
First a disclaimer. I've spent my life around the sea and ships, but I'm not a big fan of "sailing fiction." A lot of it, in my opinion, spends too much time trying to teach the reader about square-rigged sailing and not enough time on the story or character development. There are only so many times you can reef the sails without it getting a little old.

Spilman avoids that trap, and does it skillfully. He gives us technical detail enough to satisfy the most ardent sailor, but weaves it naturally through the narrative, setting the stage but never stealing the show. And a very believable and well-drawn cast is very much the show, as the characters struggle against a merciless sea (and each other) in an attempt to survive a transit `round the Horn' during one of the worst seasons on record.

The author's storytelling ability is eclipsed only by his obvious grasp of the subject matter, and the result is a damn good sea story. Highly recommended.
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on September 4, 2012
In 'HELL AROUND THE HORN' by Rick Spilman (Kindle edition), the author conducts the reader on a sea voyage they will not easily forget.
From the hustle and bustle of the wharf side in Cardiff, we are introduced to the crew of the LADY REBECCA. The ageing windjammer, loaded with a cargo of coal, is set to sail from Wales, UK, to a port on the west coast of South America following the route taken by the great clipper ships around Cape Horn.
By 1905, the days of the great commercial sailing ships were dying, but Captain Barker is intent on challenging the notorious Horn once more. He is so confident, he takes his wife and children with him.
Barker's choice of sailors is both wise and eclectic. Some men have experience, others little, but one is dangerous - a fact that only becomes evident as the story unfolds. Facing unsympathetic winds, the dreaded Doldrums, fire on board and near mutiny, after two months sailing and over 8000 miles from home, the ship reaches the point of no return.
Ahead is the notorious Horn with the menacing winds and currents which are associated with it. Barker takes up the challenge and proceeds even though the sea is intent on swallowing his ship.
It is here that Spilman's personal experience as a tall-ship sailor comes to the fore. His awareness of the sea, its dangers, the excitement, the fear, and man's vulnerability in a vast stretch of wild Ocean allows him to paint an unforgettable image - one of the best storms at sea I have read.
The story is told from several points of view including that of the Captain, the Apprentice and the Captain's wife, though she has a minor role and could possibly have been omitted from the cast.
In the extensive section of glossaries and notes at the end of the book, Spilman explains that his inspiration for writing HELL AROUND THE HORN stemmed from his research into a factual voyage of a ship named, `British Isles'.
Apart from his extensive writerly experiences and seamanship, Spilman is also a naval architect which explains why his knowledge of ships and sailing are second to none.
While `HELL AROUND THE HORN' is his first published novel, I look forwards to reading more work from this author.
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on August 23, 2012
"When the wind did hit, Fred was first deafened by the unholy roar, and then was tossed against the shrouds. An icy wall of water washed over him but he held tight to the line he had been hauling, as the rushing water lifted him off his feet. The ship staggered and rolled in the infernal blast. Then she fought her way back up, pitching and rolling like a battered boxer, never quite knocked flat, always rising again." - from Hell Around the Horn (Chapter 9) by Rick Spilman.

Writing with the verisimilitude of one who is at home on traditional sailing ships, Spilman takes us on a long and harrowing journey from Cardiff to Pisagua, Chile, around Cape Horn during the Southern Hemisphere's winter, aboard a three-masted, steel-hulled windjammer filled with Welsh coal. The year is 1905. Young Captain Barker, part owner of the ship, is in command. "This trip was his chance. It could either establish or ruin him. All in one roll of the dice."

Using an omniscient point of view, Spillman shows us what life aboard Lady Rebecca was like for a cross-section of characters, from Captain Barker and his wife, Mary, his mates, and the seamen. We get to know a representative selection of the twenty crew members -- Will, Fred, Donnie, Harry, Jerry, and Santiago, Jansen, Jeremiah - a mixture of nationalities and races who work together under extreme conditions to see the coal delivered - and to survive. Captain Barker rules the ship but so does Murphy's Law. What can happen does happen, it's man against nature and man against man in this realistic historical novel reminiscent of Eric Newby and Joseph Conrad.

In this first novel Spilman brings the world of the windjammer alive with his well-chosen details and his lively dialogue. But it's the realistic plot that will keep you turning the pages. -- Linda Collison, author Barbados Bound (Patricia McPherson Nautical Adventure)
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on January 19, 2013
I need to say this first. This book was a distinct departure from the books I typically read (and review). I'm not into sea faring yarns or "how to sail". I mainly read books about WWII, legal drama, or, political black ops. But this book caught my attention, not so much from the title, but from what was said about it by the reviewers. In short, I found Hell Around the Horn to be a totally engrossing read. So much so, I'll admit, I really could not put it down--and I do not say that lightly. It was, from start to finish, an extremely well told story. As I say, knowing nothing about sailing, I was completely in the dark during those times while the captain was ordering his crew on how to keep the ship afloat during the severe weather conditions they encountered. I will say this, however, based on what I read, I'm convinced that there is no God below 50 degrees south latitude. These sea faring men literally took their lives in their hands during this voyage delivering coal around the Horn of South America to Chile in a sailing ship. Sailing along with them, figuratively speaking, was an absolutely captivating experience for me.
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on January 27, 2013
I enjoyed this book. Going into it, I didn't know it was based on an actual voyage and most of the people in this story actually existed. That made it that much more interesting for me. However, I know nothing about sailing whatsoever. So, some of the details regarding sailing went over my head. I found myself reading entire paragraphs that made no sense to me (such as describing what they are doing with the sails). I was also unfamiliar with many of the terms (such as t'gallant and fo'c'sle) that were used regularly. It did not take away from my enjoyment of the book, though. I think most people tend to romanticize sailing and few of us realize how horrifyingly difficult a life it was. I felt that I was able to get an understanding of that in this book. It did not romanticize sailing, but looked at it much more realistically. Difficult, frustrating, dangerous, exhausting, boring, exciting... It took me a bit to really get into it, but once I was I didn't want to put it down.
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on December 30, 2012
This is a fascinating adventure novel in the classic sense of "Two Years Before the Mast" and Mr. Spillman has done an excellent job of capturing the life aboard the "Tall Ships" in their latter days. It should ring true since the author has relied heavily on the memories and memoirs of men who actually sailed the Wind Jammers and Square Riggers.
Some of the nautical terms may be mystifying to those who have not studied the history of sailing ships (t'gansail for Top Gallant sail and fo'c'sle for forecastle). There is a sail and ship plan in the Kindle edition but it is too small to read. If those terms are important to you, you can find definitions on the Internet. To me, they just added to the authenticity of this work. If anything, Mr. Spillman was too kind in relating the conditions which the sailors actually endured. While it may have been a bit better in the commercial ships, the British Royal Navy often resorted to press gangs who drugged already liquor impaired sailors who woke up as "Shanghaied" crewmen on ships already at sea. And the food (if one could call it that) on the "Lady Rebecca" was better than most British war ships provided their sailors. Wormy beef and hard tack and little of it, was the common fare.
As one who, before Amazon and the Internet, completely devoured the "Dewey Decimal System" devoted to so many fine books on the early sailing ships, I found "Hell Around the Horn" to be as close to real as fictionally possible.
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on February 7, 2013
I've read many sailing adventures about the horn itself and it is very romantic exercise in defeat. I have been around myself so I've seen the what a great deal of this was about. Didn't see the monstrous wave though.
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on July 3, 2013
A merchant sailing ship rounding the Horn in the very early 20th century. I loved it. (Actually I think I've been jaded by too many stories of fighting ships during the Napoleonic wars). Based on true events, the author has created a very enjoyable and exciting read, (without a cannon being fired). A classic and true sea story. And, the authors notes at the end of the book telling how all this came together is truly amazing. I recommend this book to all, but especially to fans of historical fiction and the sea.
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on July 9, 2013
As Captain William Jones is bringing his ship into port in Uruguay, he spies a rusted hulk beached on the shore. He recognizes the abandoned derelict. It is the Lady Rebecca. The Lady Rebecca was one of the last of a dying breed, a square rigged sailing ship still operating at the beginning of the 20th century. She was a steel hulled, three masted windjammer.

It was in this ship that Captain Jones took his first sea voyage as an apprentice.

On June 11, 1905, the Lady Rebecca left Cardiff, Wales carrying a load of coal, bound for the port of Pisagua, Chile. On board are twenty able seamen, four apprentices, the ship's officers, and the captain's wife and two children.

After 139 days at sea, the ship finally arrives at her destination. Along the way there have been terrible hardships. There was a fire in the cargo hold. They spent 71 days battling freezing weather and contrary winds while rounding the horn. Four seamen lost their lives. Many were injured or sick. And there was the threat of a mutiny.

The tale of this voyage makes for a thrilling story of adventure on the high seas. Spilman tells the tale of this fateful voyage through the eyes of William, the Captain, his wife, and an American sailor. Through their experiences we get a glimpse of the realities and hardships faced by sailors during the Age of Sail.

The author does a great job of integrating actual maritime vocabulary into his telling of the story. He has also added a glossary of nautical terms to help the reader understand that colorful jargon.

In my opinion, this novel would be a great place to start if you're interested in trying out nautical fiction. And for those who are experienced readers of this genre, it's an exciting ocean going yarn.
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This turned out to be an excellent read for me, which was somewhat a surprise. I have not visited this genre for many years, but now I'm looking forward to reading more like this. The story is based in fact, both of the characters and the ships. Mr. Spilman has done a wonderful job of taking the reader to the early twentieth century, and into the culture of the sailors of that long ago time.

It's a good introduction for the novice reader in this genre, and a thoughtful story for the more experienced. The writing is done in the style and jargon of the period, and thankfully a glossary is provided for those, like me, that are not familiar with the terminology. The Author's Notes at the end of the book is also a must read, as it explains much of the history behind the ships and sailors.

My only negative comment is the book could have been twice as long, as there is more depth to the characters than is written of, and the story would have been all the better.

I give it five stars, and a must read, rating.
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