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Tunnell's Boys Paperback – August 17, 2005
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About the Author
Tony Junker, a Quaker, lives in Philadelphia where he practices architecture. He spends what time he can sailing his gaff-rigged wooden sloop, Friar Tuck, cruising the Maine coast.
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I was on the edge of my seat reading this book and found it very interesting. The ending sort of fizzled in that I found it unbelievable, too pacifist given the history of the character.
Back in the day, Soule and Long came aboard the Tunnell at the same time, and were told that, when the time came, only one of them would be promoted to boatkeeper and ultimately pilot. They were also both smitten with the lovely Quaker, Rachel Powell. Soule, big, handsome, an experienced seaman, quick to act in an emergency and to defend an underdog, lost favor with the girl as well as the piloting board because of his propensity for brawling and his sympathy for the nascent labor unions. The novel is the story of his struggle to curb his impetuous temper and adopt the pacifist ways of the Quaker woman he loves. Long was calculating, conciliatory, a go-along-to-get-along type. Less inclined to think critically, he allowed himself to be swept up in the martial drumbeat against Spain. It's no surprise that he got the job and Soule got the girl. The passage describing the wedding in a Quaker meeting is a striking coda to Junker's treatment of the Friends' Church of the day and the issues faced by its members.
As the memoir brings us closer to the "present," our attention is increasingly focused aboard the Hannah P where the crew senses that something is amiss. Is the cargo really farm implements? Why is their course shaping more for Cuba than for Barbados? Soule's Quaker pieties are shouted down as cowardice and even treason. He faces mutiny and capture by the Spanish as Long urges him to take a firm hand, even if it means using violence.
This is also a novel of the sea, full of details about ship handling and shipboard life, as well as action passages in which the crew faces sailors' nightmares -- squall, fog, hurricanes, lee shores, ice-laden decks and rigging, and a dragging anchor in a crowded harbor. Perhaps the most memorable passage in the book is a long description of Edward Knight, master pilot and Long's mentor, guiding a British bark up to Philadelphia. Since the wind stayed fair as they made their way up the river, Knight convinced the captain to risk both their careers by waving off the tugboat and attempting a flying moor. Using only rudder and sails, Knight conned the huge craft through the crowded roadstead, across the harbor and brought it to a perfect stop alongside its wharf.
If you enjoy a well-told tale and have an interest in ships and the sea, the Spanish-American War, the Quakers of Philadelphia or the social issues of the Gilded Age, give Tunnell's Boys a read.
The principal characters are two young men you will come to care about as they grow in skill, courage and moral ambiguity. The class context, the war fever and the religious background (Quaker Philadelphia) brings the decade alive and makes this novel far more than just a seafaring yarn.