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Nice idea for a book, but a bit of a disappointment
on 1 January 2015
I was greatly looking forward to reading this book, having read a favourable review in The Guardian which whetted my appetite; and having watched the movie Captain Phillips, I was intrigued as to what life is actually like aboard a Maersk container vessel sailing between continents. Horatio Clare's book partially answers that question, and he is certainly a very good writer who brings to life much of what happens on board: he sailed on two Maersk vessels (a larger container ship travelling from the English Channel to Suez and on to east Africa, and a smaller and somewhat older ship plying its trade between Rotterdam and Canada) as the official "writer in residence", with no restrictions on what he could write about or access - apart from having to leave his first ship in Suez before it sailed into pirate-infested waters around Somalia. Although the book is not very long - it runs to 274 pages - Clare does include quite a bit of padding, including quoted passages from other books, quite a bit of nautical history, and pages listing the cargo inventories of the two vessels on which he sailed. It's also clear that Clare is a birdwatcher (he's also written a book about the migration of swallows) as he repeatedly describes all the various birds he saw on the two voyages, in a somewhat tiresome manner. I was also, I must admit, a little disappointed that he really did not bring fully alive the observational minutiae of life aboard the two ships, as what we get is more in the line of edited highlights, with some characters presented in reasonable detail, and others skimmed over. His account of the North Atlantic storm he encountered in his second voyage is very evocative and it's just a pity that the rest of the book couldn't have been more like that.