BEFORE THE WIND by Charles Tyng


The Memoir of an American Sea Captain, 1808-1833
by & edited by
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Shipping merchant Charles Tyng’s wonderfully vivid memoir of his wild and adventurous years as a sea boy and then captain on blue-water vessels. At the age of 13, Tyng was sent to sea, to China, by his father. The year was 1814; Tyng was a lowly, ignorant, scared, and abused sea boy. The voyage took a year and a half, and when it was done, Tyng had had enough of sailing. Tough, said his father, and so his profession was sealed. But Tyng shifted for himself, learned his craft, and climbed the rungs until he, in a terrific sleigh-of-hand, bought his first boat. What bestowed on Tyng enough exciting memories to fill a book was his hungry curiosity, taking every chance “while the boat lay at the landing to walk round and see the people, and get some idea of what was going on.” Between the summonings of port life—from opium dens to wharf-side eateries—architectural descriptions, and landscape delineations, there are North Sea gales to reckon with, pirates to outrace, boils to lance, unwanted tattoos to carve off, spells in prison to survive (“a place too horrid to think of”), and mutinies, some to partake in, others to quash. After his first unfortunate trip, Tyng took to the seas, and after a few circumnavigations (“This was the island where Capt. Cook was killed, and eaten, and I was told the Indian who killed him was still alive”), he settled down to runs across the Atlantic, taking sugar to Barcelona and wine to Havana, drumming up trade, acquiring more boats, trying to maintain order: “The bully of the crew . . . gave me a blow in my right temple, which sent me headlong in the lee scuppers.” The book ends on a cliffhanger—he is in the last stages of Asiatic cholera—when Tyng is only 32; he has another 47 years to live. Tyng’s saga, edited by his great-great-granddaughter, grips with its lively immediacy and transports with its mildly antique but always expressive language. (Author tour)

Pub Date: June 7th, 1999
ISBN: 0-670-88632-7
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Viking
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1st, 1999


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