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.”
Using an omniscient point of view, Spilman shows us what life aboard Lady Rebecca was like for a cross-section of characters, from Captain Barker and his wife, Mary, his mates, and the seamen. We get to know a representative selection of the twenty crew members — Will, Fred, Donnie, Harry, Jerry, and Santiago, Jansen, Jeremiah – a mixture of nationalities and races who work together under extreme conditions to see the coal delivered – and to survive. Captain Barker rules the ship but so does Murphy’s Law. It’s man against nature and man against man in this realistic historical novel reminiscent of Eric Newby and Joseph Conrad.
In this first novel Spilman brings the world of the windjammer alive with his well-chosen details and his lively dialogue. But it’s the realistic plot that will keep you turning the pages.