It is the story of a sailor's life from the forecastle, not a captain, nor a passenger, but a regular hand. The book was a great favorite with the jack tar of Dana's day, and two thousand copies are said to have been sold to Liverpool sailors in a single day. Even those who haven't the faintest idea what reefing topsail is, or which is starboard and which larboard, will find it an engaging story of an era long past told in simple narrative style.
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Wow! What a read! To learn of living history rather than a political one. It’s no wonder that Jack London made reference to this work in his own collection, The Human Drift. I’d recommend for any reader to allot extra time to truly absorb this work. So glad I did to the very end.
Nostalgic Trip for an Old Sailor
Unlike most "sea stories", this book is a true account of a young man's time at sea. I first encountered this book over fifty years ago when dredging up quotes to put in a maritime academy yearbook. Dana's account of living and working about a sailing vessel in the early 19th Century made my six years aboard ship seem like a pleasure cruise. To make it even more fun for this California boy, Dana describes in detail the surrounding landmarks during time spent ashore in old California.
The real treat was the closing chapter, written 25 years after Dana's return to Boston. He takes a steamer to San Francisco, then tours the now state, meeting old acquaintances who later became famous historical figures in California's history.
You don't have to be a sailor or a Californian to get a good kick out of this book.
Remarkable, if a bit tedious in spots
This book is remarkable in many ways: that Mr Dana, while a student at Harvard, would suspend his studies and crew on a Boston trading vessel bound for California, by all accounts meeting or besting seasoned sailors in discharging his duties; that he found the time and had the discipline to maintain such a detailed journal of the 2&1/2 year voyage; that the crew and ship survived the perils he chronicles; and that his account of California in the 1830's (when San Francisco boasted one clapboard shack and San Diego was essentially deserted) was the first such written and became a must-read for the thousands who relocated there a few decades later. I read with fascination his accounts of the Spanish, Mexicans, Russians and Hawaiians he encountered, but found his detailed descriptions of all the canvas and rigging and ship anatomy a bit much for my non-nautical mind. No doubt this would not be so for those more familiar with all the terms. In a delightful final chapter, he outlines his return as a steamer passenger (of some renown) some 20 years later, writing candidly of the mix of emotions this evokes.