For as long as I can remember, I have loved sailing ships. I know where it came from – my Dad.
I remember as a kid being fascinated by the intricacies of a model of HMS Victory my Dad had made – the sails, the netting, the ropes. All in the right place. And the miniature cannons – an obvious attraction to a youngster!
Dad had always loved sailing ships despite neither of us having any nautical background. He read to me and my sister as a kid. One of the books, Two Years Before the Mast, made an impression on me. It introduced me to the genre and it wasn’t long before I had discovered Hornblower.
The great delight of being a young teenager and reading the Hornblower novels by C S Forester, was that they start with Hornblower at about that age in his Midshipman days. I was hooked, reading right through the stories within a couple of years.
Other naval books followed, such as Alexander Kent’s Bolitho stories. And along the way I got to collect thematic stamps from around the world with pictures of ships on.
Then came Patrick O’Brian. This is a totally different class of seafaring novel. It’s C S Forester meets Jane Austen. The books are incredibly well researched and brilliantly written. They are as much to do with the main characters as to do with ships and battles – and they really do read like Jane Austen at sea. With 20 or so books in the series, there’s plenty to go at.
I’ve never been on a real seafaring sail ship. But thanks to my Dad, I have been around the world and back. I’ve discovered countries, fought battles, dealt with scurvy, shinned down the mainmast and lived with the wide horizons of the seas.
Maybe that is why I’m so attracted to the poem attributed to Sir Francis Drake. Here it is – and I pray you too will set sail, and losing sight of the land, will see the stars.
Disturb us, Lord, when
We are too pleased with ourselves,
When our dreams have come true
Because we dreamed too little,
When we arrived safely
Because we sailed too close to the shore.
Disturb us, Lord, when
With the abundance of things we possess
We have lost our thirst
For the waters of life;
Having fallen in love with life,
We have ceased to dream of eternity
And in our efforts to build a new earth,
We have allowed our vision
Of the new Heaven to dim.
Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly,
To venture on wilder seas
Where storms will show Your mastery;
Where losing sight of land,
We shall find the stars.
We ask you to push back
The horizons of our hopes;
And to push back the future
In strength, courage, hope, and love.