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 The prolific McCutchan (Cameron's Crossing, 1993, etc.) introduces a new series character: a seaman beginning his apprenticeship during the final days of the great sailing ships and the advent of steam-powered vessels. McCutchan knows the sea and ships. He offers much lore in these pages about trade winds, sailing techniques, and ancient superstitions (a sailor sewn into canvas for burial at sea always has the final stitch put through his nose to ward off evil spirits), and that alone should delight readers naturally drawn to naval adventures. Better yet, this author knows how to tell a story. His hero is young Tom Chatto, son of an Irish Protestant deacon, whose first journey at sea is aboard the Pass of Drumochter, bound from Liverpool to South America and thence Australia in the late 19th century. This grand old windjammer's captain, Theodore Landon, was once its owner, before he sold out to the shipping line for which he now works. He is thus given special permission to bring along his young wife, Mary, whose presence on the ship precipitates a rivalry for her attention between the quick-tempered and often violent first mate, Mr. Patience, and Paul Chardonnet, a stowaway. Chardonnet has fled a French ship on which he was accused of murdering the brutal mate, but Captain Landon allows him to remain on the Pass of Drumochter after he saves Mary from drowning. Events finally come to a head in stormy seas off of Cape Horn, where a treacherous act threatens the life of everyone aboard. Young Tom is more observer than participant in most of these events, but he is learning and by the book's end has established himself as a man both comfortable and capable aboard ship. Splendid fun--the next voyage out is eagerly anticipated.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1995
ISBN: 0-312-11743-4
Page count: 160pp
Publisher: St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1st, 1995


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