Armchair voyages

This afternoon I picked up a copy of the book “Erebus: The Story of a Ship” by Michael Palin and I’ve found it almost impossible to put down again.

Written about the voyages of a ‘bomber’ ship and a crew of interesting real life characters, the story traces the journey of the ‘Erebus’ from its maiden voyage to its final resting place in an icy northern sea.

Not only is the cover art amazing but the story reminds me of all the books I read as a kid:

  • The Tintin series by Hergé with the much loved character Captain Haddock who inspired my siblings and I to yell “Blue blistering barnacles!” as we ran around the house.
  • The adventure series by Willard Price, particularly ‘South Sea Adventure’ where brothers Hal and Roger free dived for pearls and fought off bad guys on a tropical island (and forever gave me a hunger for breadfruit which I still haven’t tried yet).
Giant stingray!
  • ‘Swiss Family Robinson’ by Johann David Wyss was also a bedtime read as a kid. I don’t remember much of the plot or characters but I have a very strong memory of them living in a treehouse. To me, treehouse living was the peak of success in life, and I spent most of my childhood in a tree nailing wood to tree trunks or climbing up the tree as high as I dared. The thinner top branches swayed in the way I imagined a ship mast would and gave me a sweeping view of my neighbour’s backyards. My neighbourhood was exceptionally flat.
  • Probably one of my favourite series was ‘Swallows and Amazons’. The books sparked a year of backyard boat building and the goal of sailing across the local pond so we could camp on the “island” in the centre. We never sailed to the island, but we did have a great time nailing planks together and arguing about how to make a wooden pallet waterproof.
A map from Swallows and Amazons

Reading all these adventure books gave me a hunger for adventure and expedition that I don’t really know how to action. Maybe it’s time to learn how to sail and follow the footsteps of my ancestors; the ones who sailed from Corsica to New Zealand, deserted the navy and hid in the bush only to be gored by a wild pig, or the ones who designed ships and eventually travelled by sea to settle in New Zealand.

Until then, armchair sailing and adventures will have to do.

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