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Ocean Life in the Old Sailing Ship Days

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John D. Whidden started out at sea in 1834, at the age of twelve, and did not retire until 1870. This is his account of over a quarter-century spent on the high seas. Orphaned at five, nothing held Whidden back from embarking on sea life seven years later. Serving as an apprentice, he quickly proved his worth, and earned himself a mate’s position by his early twenties. G John D. Whidden started out at sea in 1834, at the age of twelve, and did not retire until 1870. This is his account of over a quarter-century spent on the high seas. Orphaned at five, nothing held Whidden back from embarking on sea life seven years later. Serving as an apprentice, he quickly proved his worth, and earned himself a mate’s position by his early twenties. Graduating to third, second and first office, he ended his career in command of, and having part-ownership of his own vessel. This memoir, Ocean Life in the Old Sailing Ship Days, records a series of real events, from his childhood impressions of rough and ready seamen, to his thrilling and brutal experiences of war. His travels saw him spanning the world, with stops at major ports such as Honolulu, Buenos Aires, Calcutta, and Liverpool. His life spans the changes in the shipping industry over the 19th and into the 20th century. During the Civil War, Whidden was heavily involved in profitable island trading in the Bahamas to elude Confederate sailors. However, shortly after the close of the war, in 1870, Whidden left sailing as he found it being overtaken by foreign interests. John D. Whidden (1832-1911) wrote Ocean Life in the Old Sailing Days in 1908, partly as a memoir, but also to offer a snippet of the “old sailing ship days” before major changes occurred to its business environment, fundamentally changing its nature. It is a classic account of a different way of life, which will appeal to both sailing enthusiasts and historians alike.


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John D. Whidden started out at sea in 1834, at the age of twelve, and did not retire until 1870. This is his account of over a quarter-century spent on the high seas. Orphaned at five, nothing held Whidden back from embarking on sea life seven years later. Serving as an apprentice, he quickly proved his worth, and earned himself a mate’s position by his early twenties. G John D. Whidden started out at sea in 1834, at the age of twelve, and did not retire until 1870. This is his account of over a quarter-century spent on the high seas. Orphaned at five, nothing held Whidden back from embarking on sea life seven years later. Serving as an apprentice, he quickly proved his worth, and earned himself a mate’s position by his early twenties. Graduating to third, second and first office, he ended his career in command of, and having part-ownership of his own vessel. This memoir, Ocean Life in the Old Sailing Ship Days, records a series of real events, from his childhood impressions of rough and ready seamen, to his thrilling and brutal experiences of war. His travels saw him spanning the world, with stops at major ports such as Honolulu, Buenos Aires, Calcutta, and Liverpool. His life spans the changes in the shipping industry over the 19th and into the 20th century. During the Civil War, Whidden was heavily involved in profitable island trading in the Bahamas to elude Confederate sailors. However, shortly after the close of the war, in 1870, Whidden left sailing as he found it being overtaken by foreign interests. John D. Whidden (1832-1911) wrote Ocean Life in the Old Sailing Days in 1908, partly as a memoir, but also to offer a snippet of the “old sailing ship days” before major changes occurred to its business environment, fundamentally changing its nature. It is a classic account of a different way of life, which will appeal to both sailing enthusiasts and historians alike.

30 review for Ocean Life in the Old Sailing Ship Days

  1. 5 out of 5

    Dennis Rutzou

    This an absolute historical gem. It was written by Captain John D Whidden and first published in 1908 and is the story of the last days of the 'tramp' sailing ships that took their cargo to and from port and tried to pick up another cargo or went with ballast to another where they could get one. The captain had to be an adroit trader to negotiate the terms of the trade and was not above speculating to get a good return for himself. The author started as a 12 year old boy and finished as a captai This an absolute historical gem. It was written by Captain John D Whidden and first published in 1908 and is the story of the last days of the 'tramp' sailing ships that took their cargo to and from port and tried to pick up another cargo or went with ballast to another where they could get one. The captain had to be an adroit trader to negotiate the terms of the trade and was not above speculating to get a good return for himself. The author started as a 12 year old boy and finished as a captain and ship owner. The period about which he writes encompasses the American Civil War and ends in the last days of sale, when not only is there a world wide shipping slump but the cargo steamers are starting to make an impact. He is very good at describing his experiences and what he sees and brings the topic alive. If anything he seems to downplay the obvious high level of skill of the sailors in handling a heavily loaded sailing ship is gales and storms. I thoroughly enjoyed this book.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Chris Bull

    Disappointing The author seems to have kept a diary on which he expanded a book. Not very much on the goings on of "ocean life" but rather where he visited and the time he spent on shore (and even then not much detail). The book should and could have been much better. Disappointing The author seems to have kept a diary on which he expanded a book. Not very much on the goings on of "ocean life" but rather where he visited and the time he spent on shore (and even then not much detail). The book should and could have been much better.

  3. 4 out of 5

    C.E. Cannery

    I was first attracted to this book by its name and what I thought would be in the insides of its pages -the "Ocean Life" with emphasis on "life" as I thought this would be a more personal book, but it oddly was not. With the exception of a few places where the author chose to provide more detail (the beginning and the end and some little "fun stories"), the bulk of this reads more like a ship's log. There are lots of mentions of what speed the ships were going, what the weather was like, how the I was first attracted to this book by its name and what I thought would be in the insides of its pages -the "Ocean Life" with emphasis on "life" as I thought this would be a more personal book, but it oddly was not. With the exception of a few places where the author chose to provide more detail (the beginning and the end and some little "fun stories"), the bulk of this reads more like a ship's log. There are lots of mentions of what speed the ships were going, what the weather was like, how the waves were, from where (and to where) the ship was going, and what cargo the ship was carrying. Due to the above facts, I think this book would probably be of more interest to historians than casual readers (because quite frankly, it can be very repetitive and not a joy to read.) This is not to say that there weren't interesting moments or insights into the past, but they are few and far in between.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Michaela Hill

    Very well written. Great history of the commercial days of sail I would have rated this at 5 stars had it included the plates, mentioned by Captain Whidden, that were taken from the book that Mrs. Whidden was presented while in harbor in Brasil. Maps of the travels of Captain Whidden would have been immeasurably appreciated.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Clyde Pharr

    Sails of yore To the sea in ships! How lovely were the days of sailing ships, and all so well told by this former master of the seas. You can feel the winds and taste the salty waters as the experiences are so well recounted by this gentleman of the world, and what a delightful travelogue he does narrate! Enjoyed it all immensely.

  6. 5 out of 5

    jim elliott

    So,so,quite repetitive, Would of liked some clear definition s of some of the sailing vernacular early on. Guess I could have researched them myself, read like a slightly more refined ships log, but still an interesting reach back in time, worth the time, for someone with an adventurous soul.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Justin Morin

    Good Not extremely detailed. Easy to read and cool how he tied in historical events through his eyes. A lot of characters kind of hard to keep track off who is who. He also didn't seem to fond of his first wife who casually just dies lol. Good Not extremely detailed. Easy to read and cool how he tied in historical events through his eyes. A lot of characters kind of hard to keep track off who is who. He also didn't seem to fond of his first wife who casually just dies lol.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Rick Northrup

    I am a sailor ! There has never been written a more detailed life of a 19th century sailer. He was always a sea lover,even before he went to sail the oceans.From cabin not to captain on all types of sailing vessel..Spellbinding !

  9. 5 out of 5

    Mark Rose

    Best sea adventures for pennies Whidden, a fine writter tells a good yarn recording for posterity these romatic times. Best read this year for me, fast paced yet thought provoking in description and adventure.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Patrick

    Shockingly good! You'll have to enjoy sailing ships, the ocean, and history - if you check those boxes, this book is for you! Shockingly good! You'll have to enjoy sailing ships, the ocean, and history - if you check those boxes, this book is for you!

  11. 4 out of 5

    shari lee

    At though description of a boy becoming a man at sea The author very diligently discribes how he as youth engaged the sea as a cabin boy and becomes a ships captain.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Gerard Joyce

    Tugboat cook liked a lot Upbeat and in depth account of life aboard old ships under sail.Liked the introductions to each chapter.Altogether enjoyable read! highly recommend!

  13. 5 out of 5

    JERALD J JOHNSON

    True history of the sailing days I enjoyed this book, and believe it was a true history of the sailing days. It is quite different then other sailing books I've read. True history of the sailing days I enjoyed this book, and believe it was a true history of the sailing days. It is quite different then other sailing books I've read.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Sylvain Roy

    A little dry in the details, but compared to other books in it's genre, it's a lot more enjoyable tho read. The book is more like a nostalgic remembering of his voyages than it is a ship's log. A little dry in the details, but compared to other books in it's genre, it's a lot more enjoyable tho read. The book is more like a nostalgic remembering of his voyages than it is a ship's log.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Jerry Berenson

    Very interesting book Great first hand storytelling of life on sailing vessels from a cabin boy whom over 25 years became captain and part owner of several merchant ships

  16. 4 out of 5

    Richard White

    Very interesting and well written Very interesting and well written. The book gives great insight into what it was like to be a sailor at that time

  17. 5 out of 5

    Bob

    Buy this book today What a great telling of the Tall ship history, well written fun read in the autobiographical format. Loved this book

  18. 4 out of 5

    Jeff

    Ok Just not as good as I thought it would be I did like reading about his progression up to a part owner

  19. 5 out of 5

    Phillip A. Reeves

    Full and blile. Best of the class. Can never get a better picture of the way of sail than from this well written book.

  20. 5 out of 5

    John Karlson

    Interesting history lesson. Okay, little boring, but if you are into pre Civil War history you might like this one. Worth your while., but real wordy.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Brent

    Enjoyable Memoir by Sailing Ship Captain An interesting memoir by a sailing ship Captain who rose through the ranks from a cabin boy at age 12 in the mid- 1800's. The author includes his thoughts on ship discipline and offers high praise for the crewmen, whom he refers to collectively throughout the book as "Jack", as well as for his officers. He describes the various ports he visited around the world, some multiple times, covering the flora and fauna as well as some cultural and political charac Enjoyable Memoir by Sailing Ship Captain An interesting memoir by a sailing ship Captain who rose through the ranks from a cabin boy at age 12 in the mid- 1800's. The author includes his thoughts on ship discipline and offers high praise for the crewmen, whom he refers to collectively throughout the book as "Jack", as well as for his officers. He describes the various ports he visited around the world, some multiple times, covering the flora and fauna as well as some cultural and political characteristics. A well written, positive account of a bygone era. He does use some nautical jargon, without definition, related to commands and equipment used on sailing ships.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Bill Crawford

    Nautical saccharin This book gives the impression that being a sailor in the 1800's was a glorious ride. No mention of setting sails atop an 80' main-mast in a howling gale, brushing aside green scum at the water barrel, weavels in ships biscuit or the scum of the waterfront in the fo'castle with 14 year old ships boys on several year voyages. Gambling for live rats for fresh meat. This book is a bedtime story for 12-14 year olds. Nautical saccharin This book gives the impression that being a sailor in the 1800's was a glorious ride. No mention of setting sails atop an 80' main-mast in a howling gale, brushing aside green scum at the water barrel, weavels in ships biscuit or the scum of the waterfront in the fo'castle with 14 year old ships boys on several year voyages. Gambling for live rats for fresh meat. This book is a bedtime story for 12-14 year olds.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Jerry Mercer

    Excellent details of Life on Sailing Vessels The major part of Captain Whidden's life as a deep water sailor gives us an entertaining and detailed idea of what it was like to sail the seas in those days. He explains the business of sailing, arrangement of cargos, and provides excellent descriptions of many ports. Through storms and beautiful, calm nights the reader gains insight to the trials and benefits of a life at sea. Excellent details of Life on Sailing Vessels The major part of Captain Whidden's life as a deep water sailor gives us an entertaining and detailed idea of what it was like to sail the seas in those days. He explains the business of sailing, arrangement of cargos, and provides excellent descriptions of many ports. Through storms and beautiful, calm nights the reader gains insight to the trials and benefits of a life at sea.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Howard Congleton

    Top of the line. Really enjoyed the chronological order of the book. The author's detailed description of the sails as they were needed was excellent. The geographical descriptions were great. Top of the line. Really enjoyed the chronological order of the book. The author's detailed description of the sails as they were needed was excellent. The geographical descriptions were great.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Donald M. Rhodes

    S boy grows up on the sea Easy to read. Not a lot of detail about ships or places. More of a summary of one man's life over time. S boy grows up on the sea Easy to read. Not a lot of detail about ships or places. More of a summary of one man's life over time.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Bernard Nosbisch

  27. 4 out of 5

    Bill Bray

  28. 4 out of 5

    Gregg B. Corbitt

  29. 5 out of 5

    Bill Meetze

  30. 4 out of 5

    Scotts

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