Reading Books from a Mariner's Perpective

Just finished a couple books, one by Gore Vidal, ‘Williwaw’ and one by Jack Kerouac, 'The Sea is my Brother;

.While Kerouac’s book was written in 1942 and wasn’t published until 2011. Didn’t seem very good to me but found it worth the read.

Kerouac was briefly in the Merchant Marine. There’s a bit about it here: Jack Kerouac - Wikipedia

The other, Vidal’s book, evidently critics liked it for it’s character development and it’s writing style. I finished it, it’s a short book but I had problems with the depictions on the technical side of things.

Gore was Chief Mate on an Army FS in the Aleutians during WW II. I also sailed as mate on an FS in the Aleutians.

One detail that I noticed but it didn’t really bother me was in the title itself. I kept expecting the ship to encounter a williwaw but it never did, just a very bad storm.

Someone must have pointed out this error because here’s Vidal’s note in the beginning of the book.

NOTE: Williwaw is the Indian word for a big wind peculiar to the Aleutian islands and the Alaskan coast. It is a strong wind that sweeps suddenly down from the mountains toward the sea. The word williwaw, however, is now generally used to describe any big and sudden wind. It is in this last and more colloquial sense that I have used the term. G. V.

Vidal, Gore. Williwaw . Burtyrki Books. Kindle Edition.

“is now generally used to describe any big and sudden wind.” - I don’t think that’s correct.

It’s $2.00 at Amazon on Kindle.


Williwaw is here as a pdf: This E-Book is published by PDFBooksWorld

Evans it the ship’s Captain and Martin is the Chief Mate.

I thought this was funny - first this:

Martin walked across the dock. He watched lumber being loaded onto the Liberty ship by sailors with heavy fantastic beards. The port was slowly closing down and he, for one, was not sorry. For a year now he had been at Andrefski as a first mate. He had fought constantly with Evans and he had known all the time that Evans was right: that he was no seaman. Martin had drifted into boat work in the army. After two years he had been made a Warrant Officer and assigned to this Freight-Passenger ship. The whole thing was unreal to him, the Bering Sea, these boats, the desolate stone islands. He wished he were in New England and the thought that he would be at least another year in these islands was maddening.

Further in the book this:

“The Captain at the Transport Office did tell me that the weather might be unreliable at this time of year.”

“That’s right, but it shouldn’t be bad.” Martin spoke as if the sea and the weather had no secrets from him. Often he marveled at how professional he sounded.


“Until the Sea Shall Free Them” & “The Captains of Thor” both by Robert Frump. I really enjoyed both of these books for the factual descriptions and well written style. The facts resonate with me also. I would also recommend “Cajun Mariner” by Woody Falgoux. Just a fun read IMHO.


The Grey Seas Under and The Serpent’s Coil both by Farley Mowatt


Even Kerouac didn’t like it (he called it a crock.) Considering it was his first attempt at a novel and one he ultimately lost interest in/gave up on (hence the ending…) I found it rather enjoyable.

He’s also one of those “love him or hate him,” writers.


I loved Grey Seas Under and have been meaning to check out more of that author’s work. Thanks for the reminder.

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Decent read. Some of the details felt off.

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I enjoyed Richard McKenna’s The Sand Pebbles as well as his lesser known collection of engineer-related short stories called The Left-Handed Monkey Wrench.


“Away All Boats”, Kenneth Dodson. If you thought the Jeff Chandler movie was good and touched on the Merchant Marine/Navy cultural divide, the book is even better.


Yeah, I had some problems with my suspension of disbelief in places.

The first mate’s character seemed believable, disgruntled, sick of the Aleutians, didn’t like the captain. But I couldn’t figure out the captain’s character. He had been an Alaskan fisherman before the war but seemed lack a fisherman’s intuition about about the weather.

Apparently the main characters were the chaplain and the other two passengers. Or at least seems to be the case from this review.

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He sure has a lot of words.


After graduating from high school, Mr. Dodson spent 20 years in the Merchant Marine. Shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, he enlisted in the Navy and saw action in nine major battles, including Okinawa.

In the early 1950’s, the poet Carl Sandburg, a friend, encouraged Mr. Dodson to write about his experiences during the war.

From NYT


“The boat that would not float”


I’m really into Coast Guard “rescue” stories, TRUE stories. “So Others Might Live” for one and “On The Edge Of Survival” is one I just started.

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“A Man and his Ship” by Steven Ujifusa about the SS United States and William Gibbs the Nav Arq behind it. I have seen the ship moored up in Philly.

“Sea spray and Whiskey” funny read about a tramp steamer.

David Balboulene wrote two books about his adventures as a Cadet in the British Merchant Navy in the seventies or eighty’s. They were hilarious in my opinion. “Ocean Boulevard” & “Jumping Ships”.

Happy Holidays

The Spike Walker books are all great reading.


Sea Wolf by Jack London. More of an outsiders perspective into the old sailing world, but great nonetheless. Many of his descriptions are still true to this day.

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A literary critic would take that into account but I read books about the sea from a mariner’s perspective.

I’ve have since read a little of Kerouac’s later work and he deserves his reputation. Might give "On the Road’ a try.

None of that however makes "The Sea is my Brother’ any better from a mariner’s perspective.

I should add that I did find the book worth the read, Kerouac got the sense of shipping and an lot of details right.

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It shouldn’t. It was a starting point from which he grew as a writer, nothing more. There’s a reason it was kept hidden in his own pile of belongings and not published until over 40 years after he died. I suspect it was only published for his hardcore fans to have as a novelty item on their bookshelves, kinda like how “never before heard” Beatles recordings are being released now. I couldn’t care less, but some big time fans are drooling over it.

On the Road is worth a read. I was surprised to find as a teenager reading it how many singer/songwriters pointed to it as a major influence on their own work.

I thoroughly enjoyed On the Road. Readability was never Kerouac’s forte, but he does manage to set the tone like few others. I gave my copy to a German philosopher I met during a maintenance stay in Palermo; I doubt he found himself within it like I did.

As for the original subject of this thread, I have found very few widely circulated books about the sea that read well from a mariner’s perspective. Joshua Slocum’s Sailing Alone Around the World is an honorable exception, along with a slew of early explorers’ journals.

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