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on 3 March 2014
I found this story both revealing and informative. Clare develops a deep sense of the real life aboard the modern cargo ship, supplemented by some of the travails of the modern seafarer, whether it is lack of internet access or discriminatory pay and conditions for the crews.

The book tells the tale of the author's voyages on two ships. About two thirds of the book is taken up with the first voyage. Somewhat like Monserrat's "The Cruel Sea" (quoted from in Clare's tale), the story of the second ship seems to not fit so well - or maybe I felt an affinity with the first crew, and just couldn't warm to the second crew's story quite as much!

But that's a minor quibble! I looked forward to reading this book whenever I could and passed many pleasant hours on board with the sights, sounds and smells of the Maersk vessels. Anyone who ever wondered what life as a modern deep sea merchant seaman might be like will be fascinated.
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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.
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on 6 May 2015
I really enjoyed this; being the son of a former chief engineer on merchant vessels I've loved ships from a young age and also enjoy travel writing. Seeing some of the 'professional' reviews of this book I thought it might be a bit 'flamboyant' in style and was slightly reluctant but it's actually a really good read, not too over-dramatic and an interesting insight into modern day merchant shipping. The author takes 2 different Maersk container ship voyages, firstly to Asia from the UK then Europe to the USA.
There are a few minor 'landlubber' terms/mistakes you'll pick up on if you're involved in/knowledgeable about shipping, and the 2nd half of the book drags a little when there's not much in an Atlantic storm to write about except big waves, and it does go on a little at times about how badly some crew are paid, but on the whole a book you'll want to keep reading right through and feel you're on the journey with the author.
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on 22 May 2015
The author has observed and described the every day life on board merchant ships today. I spent 38 years at sea, 24 years in command. Followed by 12 years as a Pilot and with Horatio's descriptions my seagoing and Piloting memories were brought vividly to life. With even a ship's background smells vividly portrayed.

There are a couple of minor inaccuracies but to mention them in any detail may detract from a vividly well written book. Horatio could have simply been passing on what some Junior Officer had told him.

Enjoyed from start to finish. Many thanks for the nostalgic read.
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on 19 April 2015
I read this book from the viewpoint of being a former Merchant Navy officer myself, as well as an author who writes about the sea. Down to the Sea in Ships is a first class read and deserves the acclaim that it is, for the most part, achieving. With a depth of writing that produces descriptive phrases such as: 'The engine is like a gigantic mad animal, howling in a cathedral of its own', or his description of the climbing waves in a storm: 'hanging their arms round one another's shoulder's they now form ranks, hundreds of metres long, some self effacing, sliding by, while others make a point, which sends lucent turquoise-white spray up high on either side, lending butterfly wings to the bow.' - this really is top quality stuff.

The book has it's faults and would have benefited much by a pre-publication professional critique. A seaman will instantly spot it's been written by a landlubber because there is too much subjective focus on things the author clearly feels are important to include. 5 metre waves must have been mentioned a dozen or more times, although professional seaman will talk more of the force of the wind and its effect on the sea by reference to the Beaufort scale. A lot of old Far East hands will hoot at the now defunct Singapore centre of debauchery, Bugis Street, being written about as 'Boogie' Street, and some seaman will say 'Hmmm' about his sighting of an albatross in the Bay of Biscay.

However, these are minor points, which don't detract from a well-constructed book, a cracking read and probably one the best works of the sea to come out for a long time. Read it.
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on 21 November 2014
I hadn't read anything by this author and greatly enjoyed it. A very well written account of events going on in a world outside my experience. Food for thought re. those who keep our world turning! I will look for more of his books.
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on 18 January 2014
This book is one of the best he has done so far. You feel like you are actually on the journey with him, experiencing all the highs and the lows of this great adventure on the sea. I read it at one point for four hours straight as I couldn't put it down. Full of interesting facts and history. A must read for everyone.
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on 25 January 2014
A chronicle of two contrasting voyages on container ships one travelling from the UK ultimately to the US 'to the East and West' in Clare's words, the other from Antwerp to Canada, 'to the North'. Along with the personal record of life on ship and places seen there are pen portraits of officers and crew - the officers European and Indian the crew Philippino, some account of sealife and birds and reflections on journey's past eg by Coleridge, on times past in merchant shipping on disasters at sea past and the Atlantic war with a memorable short extract from The Cruel Sea.

It's an interesting concept and it's well executed and there is much that will stay in my mind. Things like trying to approach a hotel in Hong Kong on foot (not advised) and the cold of Canada.

Clare laments times past in merchant shipping and the low pay of the crew. It's market forces everyone tells him and he has in answer. He sympathises with both sides us a pilots' strike and he also says the whole venture is loss-making at the moment. He does not have a policy solution therefore. And we're times really better when there was drink on board - so much so that Maersk had to dry out senior personnel it wanted to keep when it brought in an alcohol ban. I can't help wondering if that was really better...

Still there is much to enjoy here and I would recommend reading this to others.
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on 14 February 2014
I thoroughly enjoyed this book BUT I have also read a book called Deep Sea and Foreign Going by Rose George and the similarity is incredible. I almost feel the two authors might have journeyed together for the first half of the book! This did not put me off either book, and the second half of Down to the Sea in Ships was very gripping. I really feel sorry for whichever author had the original idea!
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TOP 100 REVIEWERon 21 July 2015
There is some fine poetic writing here and you really feel part of the crew although I believe the author hasn't given us all the nitty gritty from his voyages. I have to register a couple of caveats though. First up, at the end of two voyages in different ships I feel there should be more to give. Maybe the stories dried up or the crew were more reticent than he made out but I just wanted more - a lot of the writing is of second hand accounts on top of that so I feel a bit short changed - especially as the author is such a good writer if given the chance to do so. The second quibble is at the absence of maps of the routes and diagrams or cross-sections of the ships. Perhaps we are meant to use the author's words as maps or something but if you are going to describe a trip down the channel with reference to the various shoals and sandbanks then a map would have been useful. A chance missed I feel.
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