Tuesday, May 06, 2008
Harvey Oxenhorn chronicled in journal form his voyage from Boston, Massachusetts to Jakobshavn, Greenland on board the Regina Maris, a tall ship first launched in 1908.
Having no experience and only book knowledge (Conrad, Melville) of sailing ships, Oxenhorn signed on as a crew-member on this ocean research ship used to study whales. His idea was that he would help somewhat as a part of the crew, but that large chunks of his days would would be spent contemplating his experiences aboard ship, collecting his thoughts and putting them on paper.
To his dismay, his captain denied his request, which - according to the captain - amounted to special privileges. The captain explained how exemptions from standing watch, serving in the galley, or any other duty was bad for the morale of the ship's crew. At first, Oxenhorn disagreed and was angry, but his book shows how his attitude and convictions slowly and steadily changed.
Whales were sought, followed, and studied, but they aren't the main story of this book. The main story is Harvey Oxenhorn's transformation from a selfish, solitary, English-major type to a man seeking the interests of his fellow crew-members and looking out for the welfare of the ship. He ended up appreciating the discipline and rigor demanded of the crew, and of the change it made in him.
Oxenhorn also had a good eye for observing where he went and what he did, and his descriptions truly make this book work as a "travel/adventure" book. Had he lived (he was killed in a head-on car collision right after this book was published) I think he might have written more books of sea-going adventures.