Richard Spilman’s Hell Around the Horn is set at the turn of the twentieth century in one of the last windjammers to make the perilous passage about Cape Horn. It follows the progress of the Lady Rebecca as she takes on cargo and crew at Tiger Bay, before setting out for her eventual destination in far away Chile. The subsequent story is one of peril and hardship, brought about by the atrocious weather conditions and a fair degree of human mischief, and is told through the eyes of all on board, be they fresh or seasoned hands, young “brassbounders,” senior officers, or even the captain’s family. It is a gritty tale: no blue wave lapped sandy beaches here, just an excellent recreation of what is takes to round the Horn under sail, along with a better understanding of those who chose to do so. This is true historical fiction: a genuine “feel” for the time is portrayed, with interesting nuggets of information about the social conditions and descriptions of the contemporary sailing methods and gear.
A review by Linda Collison, author of the Patricia McPherson Nautical Adventure Series:
“When the wind did hit, Fred was first deafened by the unholy roar, and then was tossed against the shrouds. An icy wall of water washed over him but he held tight to the line he had been hauling, as the rushing water lifted him off his feet. The ship staggered and rolled in the infernal blast. Then she fought her way back up, pitching and rolling like a battered boxer, never quite knocked flat, always rising again.” – from Hell Around the Horn (Chapter 9) by Rick Spilman.
Writing with the verisimilitude of one who is at home on traditional sailing ships, Spilman takes us on a long and harrowing journey from Cardiff to Pisagua, Chile, around Cape Horn during the Southern Hemisphere’s winter, aboard a three-masted, steel-hulled windjammer filled with Welsh coal. The year is 1905. Young Captain Barker, part owner of the ship, is in command. “This trip was his chance. It could either establish or ruin him. All in one roll of the dice.”
In 1905, a young ship’s captain and his family set sail on the windjammer, Lady Rebecca, from Cardiff, Wales with a cargo of coal bound for Chile, by way of Cape Horn. Before they reach the Southern Ocean, the cargo catches fire, the mate threatens mutiny and one of the crew may be going mad. The greatest challenge, however, will prove to be surviving the vicious westerly winds and mountainous seas of the worst Cape Horn winter in memory. Told from the perspective of the Captain, his wife, a first year apprentice and an American sailor before the mast, Hell Around the Horn is a story of survival and the human spirit in the last days of the great age of sail.
Praise for Hell Around the Horn:
Rick Spilman brings alive the rough and tumble world of the windjammer with authentic and well-chosen detail, in a voice that is at once historically authentic, yet fresh as a salty gale. One hand for yourself and one for the ship on this fast-paced and gripping ride. – Linda Collison, author of the Patricia MacPherson Nautical Adventures.
Battling against endless contrary gales, constantly struck with disaster and tragedy, the crew of the Lady Rebecca encountered the same privations that hundreds of unsung sailors endured. As well as a story that grips with gathering tension, this book memorializes the gallant windjammer sailors of a largely forgotten era – Joan Druett, award winning nautical historian, novelist and author of Tupaia
A much neglected period of sailing history is brought to life by Spilman’s fast-moving narrative and apt use of fact and detail. – Alaric Bond, author of the Fighting Sail series of novels.