Sea StruckBook - 2004
Some people seem to be born with salt water running in their veins. As soon as they are able, they "go to sea." For certain young men at the turn of the last century, this was as much a rite of passage as making the grand tour. In most cases the experience was a transitory adventure; for a few it was a life-shaping experience.
Sea Struck is about the final decades of American square-rigged sail, as recorded in firsthand accounts of voyages made by three well-born young men from Massachusetts. The city of New Bedford looms large here-two young men, Frank Besse and Rodman Swift, came from families prominent in the whaling industry, and old whaling money financed the construction of two ships, the William J. Rotch and the Guy C. Goss , both built in Bath, Maine, under the direction of Captain William Besse of New Bedford (and cousin of young Frank). Young Tod Swift, scion of the prominent Rotch and Swift families of New Bedford and just graduated from Harvard, chose to go to sea as an ordinary seaman, much to the distress of his mother, who was particularly upset that he hadn't packed his pajamas!
Frank Besse, and a third young man, Carleton Allen, each sailed as paying passengers aboard their ships; even from that more sheltered vantage point, their accounts are fascinating. But Tod Swift's journal, kept in secret aboard the steel four-masted bark Astral, relates the reality of a prolonged, hungry, and difficult voyage from Philadelphia to Japan and San Francisco. His account is made even more compelling by interspersed excerpts from Astral's official log-which makes no mention of the fire that nearly doomed the ship, or that the hated cook was always armed with a cleaver, or that the crew went on strike (and the captain called it mutiny).