Home Page

Rick Spilman is a writer of tales about ships and the sea.  His novels, Hell Around the Horn and The Shantyman, are set in the final days of the great age of sail.  Rick is the founder and host of the Old Salt Blog, a virtual port of call for all those who love the sea. He is also a founding partner in Old Salt Press, LLC.  Professionally, he has worked as a naval architect (ship designer) for several major shipping lines. An avid sailor, Rick has sailed as volunteer crew on the replica square-riggers “HMS ROSE” and “HMS BOUNTY,” as well as sailing on modern and period vessels along the New England coast, the west coast of Florida, the Caribbean, the Great Lakes and the southwest coast of Ireland.

The Shantyman — Kindle Countdown, Starting at 99 Cents!

Shantymankirkus1sTo celebrate The Shantyman being chosen as one of the Best Indie Books of 2105 by Kirkus Reviews, we are having an impromptu promotion. Here is how it works — today and tomorrow, The Shantyman will be available in Kindle format on Amazon for only 99 cents!  The price will then step up to $1.99 on December 26th for two days, then up to $2.99 on December 28th for two more days, before returning to the regular price of $4.99.  Click here to get your copy.


The Shantyman – One of Kirkus’ Best Indie Books of the Year 2015

Shantymankirkus1sI am extremely pleased to announce that my novel “The Shantyman” has been selected as one of Kirkus Reviews’ Best Indie Books for 2015.  From the review:

With eloquent accuracy, Spilman’s novel captures the life of a 19th-century sailor…. Spilman’s colorful, well-researched novel will enthrall both sailing enthusiasts and landlubbers.  A fabulously gripping sailor’s yarn.


The Shantyman, A Kirkus Indie Book of the Month for August

I am very pleased to learn that my latest novel, The Shantyman, is being featured as one of Kirkus’ Indie Books of the Month for August.

The Kirkus starred review from last June, called The Shantyman …a fabulously gripping sailor’s yarn.   The review also says:  With eloquent accuracy, Spilman’s novel captures the life of a 19th-century sailor…. A profound understanding of nautical terminology and procedure is also evident, yet the author is careful not to confuse readers who don’t know a “crojack” from a “spanker.” … Spilman’s colorful, well-researched novel will enthrall both sailing enthusiasts and landlubbers.

To read the whole review click here.

Kirkus Starred Review of The Shantyman

A fabulously gripping sailor’s yarn.”

The Shantyman was recently reviewed by Kirkus Reviews. I am pleased to say that gave it a Kirkus Star. What does that mean? (I didn’t know either.) “The Kirkus Star is one of the most prestigious designations in the book industry. Look for the icon to discover books of exceptional merit.”  An excerpt from the review: “Spilman’s colorful, well-researched novel will enthrall both sailing enthusiasts and landlubbers.  A fabulously gripping sailor’s yarn.


With eloquent accuracy, Spilman’s novel captures the life of a 19th-century sailor.

Continue reading

The Shantyman, Quarterdeck Editor’s Choice, Reviewed by George Jepson

George Jepson’s review of my latest novel, “The Shantyman,” from the May/June issue of the McBooks Press newsletter “Quarterdeck.”

The Shantyman by Rick Spilman  

George Anderson, retired from a lifetime at sea, recalls a voyage from New York to Australia and back in 1870 in the wooden Kennebec-built clipper Alhambra. Anderson was barely seventeen when he signed aboard as an A.B. or able seaman (able to hand, reef and steer).

Continue reading

Quarterdeck Interview of Rick Spilman by George Jepson

quarterdeckmj2015I am very pleased to have been interviewed by George Jepson in the May/June issue of the McBooks Press‘ newsletter “Quarterdeck.”  If you haven’t run across “Quarterdeck” you should take a look. (A subscription is free.) This issue includes my interview and a review of my novel The Shantyman as well as an article, Victory Turns 250, by Julian Stockwin. It also includes news of nautical fiction by James L. Nelson, J. D. Davies, Jan Needle, Steve Harrison, John Cahill,  Joseph Heywood, and David Gilman, among others.  Definitely worth taking a look.

Rick Spilman by George Jepson (reposted with permission.)

Rick Spilman resides in a lovely late nineteenth century brownstone on a tree-lined street in Jersey City, New Jersey, just across the Hudson River from Lower Manhattan.

During the period when Spilman’s home was constructed, New York Harbor teemed with sailing and steam vessels from around the world. By the early 1870s, the prows and bowsprits of the clippers were common sights along piers in the East River, the area known as South Street Seaport.

Continue reading

The Shantyman

shanty3tHe can save the ship and the crew, but can he save himself?

In 1870, on the clipper ship Alhambra in Sydney, the new crew comes aboard more or less sober, except for the last man, who is hoisted aboard in a cargo sling, paralytic drunk. The drunken sailor, Jack Barlow, will prove to be an able shantyman. On a ship with a dying captain and a murderous mate, Barlow will literally keep the crew pulling together. As he struggles with a tragic past, a troubled present and an uncertain future, Barlow will guide the Alahambra through Southern Ocean ice and the horror of an Atlantic hurricane. His one goal is bringing the ship and crew safely back to New York, where he hopes to start anew. Based on a true story, The Shantyman is a gripping tale of survival against all odds at sea and ashore, and the challenge of facing a past that can never be wholly left behind. ISBN978-0-9941152-2-5

Bloody Rain — Murder, Madness and the Monsoon, A Free Short Story

bloodyraincoverswthimbBLOODY RAIN  – Murder, Madness and the Monsoon

A free short story available here.

The Queen Charlotte was anchored fore and aft off the Calcutta wharves in the Hooghly River, waiting for cargo. She was a fine, three masted iron bark; trim, low and fast on a reach – in all respects, the perfection of the shipbuilder’s art. If she had a single great flaw, it was on her quarterdeck in the man that the owners had chosen as captain.

Captain John McPherson maintains absolute control over his ship and those who sail upon her. The only one that he cannot control is himself, slipping into murder and madness in the face of the relentless monsoon.

Hell Around the Horn, Reviewed in Historic Naval Fiction by David Hayes

Originally published in Historic Naval Fiction.

In the Age of Sail the strength of wind and the height of waves in the southern ocean faced by ships rounding the Horn in winter were infamous, so from a book titled Hell Around the Horn you expect some pretty graphic descriptions of life at sea. Rick Spilman does not disappoint.

After an introduction from one of the crew in later life, the story starts as the windjammer Lady Rebecca takes on a cargo of coal and signs on crew at Tiger Bay, Cardiff, ready for a voyage to Chile. We then follow the vessel from the point of view of various officers, apprentices and crew, as well as the captain’s wife, as it faces seemingly never ending storms and the hardships lead to death and conflict aboard.

Continue reading