Tim Severin's obsession with recreating legendary voyages, or providing working support for theories of migration, leads him to build a full-sized replica of St. Brendan's boat and follow his famous voyage.To do this he had to research the probable type of boat that Brendan used, and try to extrapolate a likely route from the very obscure 'details' in Brendan's writings.
Having established that the most likely vessel was a curragh, he had to gather the raw materials and a team of experts to construct it in the traditional manner. The tale of how he gets his experts is worth the price of the book in itself ! The man must have the luck of the Irish to have everything fall so neatly into place (after a discouraging start).
The unravelling of fact from fiction (or our interpretation of fact as fiction...?) took many long and painful hours of studying texts and maps. Given that latitude and longitude were strangers to Brendan, only the vaguest hints of distance and direction were available to Mr. Severin. However, a plausible map of Brendan's route was cobbled together, taking prevailing winds, tides and leeway into consideration.
Armed with this, and a more than serviceable boat, the bold explorers ventured forth.
I won't spoil anyone's enjoyment of the book by going into more detail. Suffice to say that almost everything that Brendan described is accounted for by natural phenomena - giving the lie to those academics who dismissed the voyage as a figment of a monk's fevered imagination.
A very enjoyable read, with Mr Severin's usual hearty enthusiasm pulling you along with him. *****
on 9 February 2001
This is one of my favourite travel books. Tim Severin and his crew set out to sail the Atlantic in a leather boat, endeavouring to confirm whether the legend of St. Brendan and his crew of Irish monks could have been true.Could they have sailed to America centuries before the Norsemen and Columbus? Severin's research is impeccable and his references to St. Brendan's "Navigatio" fascinating, the boat is built and the modern adventure begins. The explanations of sea monsters, islands on fire, islands which moved, etc. are all totally plausible. Severin's book must be one of the classic sea voyages and is totally gripping throughout.
on 8 April 2007
The sixth-century voyage of St Brendan to America is the most fascinating of sea legends. Could the myth of an Irish monk and his crew sailing across the Atlantic in a boat made of leather, nearly a thousand years before Columbus, have been reality?
Tim Severin staked the lives of himself and his four companions on following the exact methods used by the seafaring Irish monks in constructing and sailing their vessel. Persuasive proof of the validity of the Brendan myth, Severin's hazardous expedition remains a supreme testament to the resilience of the voyaging spirit.
This is the story of that epic journey.
Years ago whilst I was still a schoolboy my dad had a copy of this book. Although reading it back then and being enthralled, over the years I could only remember the very basics and due to the book being lost I couldn't even remember what it was called, or the author. A big thank you then to Marcus Pailing, another reviewer and contributor to the forums on this site. After mentioning this in a discussion he was able to give me the title, and thus looking it up I was more than pleased to find that there is now a kindle version.
The reason for this particular voyage being planned and followed through is quite simple. There is a book, the Navigatio that tells of the story of Saint Brendan travelling to the Promised Land, which we can see would have been somewhere on the North American continent. Although with any stories recorded in writing in Medieval times there is much embellishment and traditions, there have been elements of the Brendan voyage though that have struck a cord, as to being feasible. Thus the idea for the Brendan voyage came about.
This book is about this new voyage, to see if it was possible for St Brendan to carry out such a voyage, by using a boat built like the ones used at the time. Going into the difficulties of building such a boat, finding out particulars and sourcing the correct materials this shows just many people have a part to play in such an endeavour, not just those who actually crew the boat. We follow the new vessel, Brendan, on her voyage. In the end this voyage took place over two seasons, but it is worth noticing that St Brendan did his over seven seasons (seven years), sailing in the summer periods only, and also scientists think that the world was in a warmer climactic condition at that period. Along with this you can also see thoughts on where the Navigatio has been embellished, and what probably was originally recorded.
This makes a fascinating read, and I must admit that I was just as enthralled reading this as I was so many years ago. What is so remarkable about this book and this voyage is that it would definitely seem that the Irish had discovered, and indeed inhabited to a very minor extent places on the continent of North America, a few centuries before the Vikings did so, and way longer ago than Columbus supposedly discovering the 'New World'. Indeed a more comprehensive look at Medieval records seems to indicate that when the Vikings reached North America they were not surprised to hear of Irishmen being there already. Also it should be pointed out that St Brendan himself was not the first person to make this voyage, as the Navigatio indicates that he was guided there by another person, and had first heard about the land from another Saint.
Although if you look at the 'Go To menu' in this kindle version no table of contents is shown there is in fact one. All you need do is to click back one page from the Foreword, and there it is. There are three appendices to this, as well as a section of photos of the voyage. All in all this is still a great read, that is thought provoking as well as an entertaining read.
on 19 June 2014
I am not a sailor but I was totally engrossed in this story of adventure and faith, I found it hard to put the book down.
I was looking for a book about Brendan the Navigator but think I have done better with this story of Tim and his crew setting out in the 1970's to see if it was really possible to sail to America in a leather boat! The courage of those men in the face of danger, and therefore of St Brendan himself, fills me with awe. I heartily recommend this to any one with an adventurous streak in them.
on 25 January 2010
Being from Kerry in Ireland (the home of St Brendan) the book holds an extra special place for me. When I saw this, I just had to read it.
Could St Brendan's voyage from Ireland to America 1000 years before St Columbus really have happened? Tim Severin has proved it was certainly possible. His experiment is objective but also details aspects of Brendan's voyage, giving explanation for the 'mythical' accounts described which are often dismissed by sceptics. It must be remembered that Brendan and is fellow monks had rarely left their county, let alone their country.
If your interested in Irish history, incredible voyages or books which document an alternative, entirely plausible history then I recommend this book.
on 14 February 2013
Severin's Hazardous expedition explores one of the most epic voyages in Irish history. How much of the voyage is myth however? Severin and his companions painstakingly recreated St. Brendan's voyage, attending to every detail possible. I enjoyed Severin's descriptions of building the wooden framework and stitching the patchwork as much as the crazy weather and other challenges they encounter on the way. The re-telling of the legends and seafaring tales should themselves be a stand-alone book! Not quite a travel book, but not all adventure either. One for those who like being taken on a real journey with ups and downs.
on 25 May 2015
I first read "The Brendan Voyage" several years ago, after a friend gave me the music CD of the same title. The music is excellent, featuring Irish Uillean pipes with a full symphony orchestra, and emotionally conjures up the experience of sailing a little leather boat through all kinds of water.
The book goes further than that, describing every stage of Tim Severin's reconstruction of the voyage of St Brendan. (If you didn't know already, this Irish monk discovered North America long before the vile Columbus.)
If you like maximum excitement, get both the book and the CD. I did.