BookPick: The Undersea World

Readers of the Kydd series will recall several mentions of machines that enable humans to swim with the fishes. In Invasion Kydd meets the gifted but enigmatic inventor Robert Fulton and his prototype submarine. And in Inferno Kydd himself braves the world beneath the waves in a diving contraption. I have warm memories of learning to scuba dive in the Philippines and thrown in free was an amazing close encounter with a twenty-ton whale shark! This month’s BookPicks focus on two different aspects of the undersea world, with a magnificent new book from Iain Ballantyne on the military deployment of submarines and a delightful little tome on the quest for treasure in shipwrecks. There’s also a special contest at the end of this blog for two lucky readers to win a copy of Ballantyne’s book.

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The Deadly Trade by Iain Ballantyne

march blog 1At over 700 pages, this thrilling narrative certainly justifies its subtitle: The Complete History of Submarine Warfare from Archimedes to the Present. Considered ineffectual and originally derided and loathed in equal measure – their crews viewed as no better than pirates – submarines have over the centuries evolved into the most powerful and terrifying vessels at sea, some carrying enough nuclear weapons to destroy mankind.

Using key episodes of submarine warfare – including the first sinking of a ship by a submersible during the American Civil War, the legendary struggles of WWI and WWII and the deadly shadow games of the Cold War Ballantyne’s history addresses not just how these vessels evolved but highlights the human cost of those who risked their lives under the sea, often with fatal consequences. The Deadly Trade also deals with the resurgence of submarines as political and military tools in recent conflicts.

Enhanced with well-chosen photographs and maps, along with comprehensive appendices and notes, this epic story should appeal not just to those who venture into Neptune’s Realm but students of history and politics – and any with a fascination for the efforts of dreamers and inventors over the ages.

Diving for Treasure by Vic Verlinden and Stefan Panis

March blog 2Having enjoyed reading Dive Scapa Flow I looked forward to this new diving book from Whittles Publishing. The authors, both skilled divers and underwater photographers, discuss seventeen undersea wrecks – presenting details and a brief history of each vessel, including the manner of their demise and the cargo they were carrying at the time.

Verlinden and Panis personally visited and photographed the wrecks and as many of the these lie at great depths diving on them posed considerable personal and technical challenges. It is sobering to note that salvage operations often extend over a long time – it took seven years to recover the bulk of the 43 tons (!) of gold aboard SS Laurentic.

This book will appeal to all those who venture into Neptune’s underwater realm, whether active or armchair, and to anyone with an interest in maritime/military history.

Win a copy of ‘The Deadly Trade’
For a chance to win a copy email with the name of the maritime magazine which Iain Ballantyne edits.
Please include your full postal address.
Two winners will be drawn at random from all correct entries.
Deadline: Midnight GMT Thursday 22 March

BookPick: Four for February

As a change from my largely sea-oriented selections this BookPick focuses on life ashore – with a witty discourse on the Georgian world of the elegant dining room, and the amazing story of Mrs Biggs, who certainly didn’t conform to the time’s expectations of her sex. As well, there’s a light-hearted compilation of animal tales of the 18th and 19th centuries, and an account of the last governor of Hong Kong, a colony that grew from a barren rock in Kydd’s day to a global powerhouse.

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The Pug Who Bit Napoleon by Mimi Matthews

Feb1From elaborate Victorian cat funerals to a Regency-era pony who took a ride in a hot air balloon, Matthews shares some of the quirkiest and most poignant animal tales of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. And who knew that a dog disrupted Napoleon’s wedding night! Based on eighteenth and nineteenth century books, letters, journals, and newspapers, these animal tales, sometimes humorous, sometimes heartbreaking, provide a fascinating read for animal lovers of all ages. Enhanced with colour illustrations, this is delightful book to dip into!

A Georgian Heroine by Joanne Major and Sarah Murden

Feb2In an age when society had certain expectations of women Rachel Charlotte Williams Biggs stands out. She emerged from an unhappy marriage to become a playwright and author, a political pamphleteer, and a spy, working for the British Government and later singlehandedly organising George III s jubilee celebrations. Trapped in France during the revolutionary years of 1792-95, she published an anonymous account of her adventures. The extraordinary Mrs Biggs lived life upon her own terms in an age when it was a man’s world, using politicians as her mouthpiece in the Houses of Parliament and corresponding with the greatest men of the day.

The Last Governor by Jonathan Dimbleby

Feb3Kathy and I were privileged to have lived in Hong Kong for more than a dozen years leading up to the complex events detailed in this book. In 1992, Chris Patten was appointed Hong Kong’s last governor. The first of July, 1997 marked the end of British rule of the territory, and Patten saw the colony passing into the hands of the People’s Republic of China. Setting the episode in both its human and historical contexts, Dimbleby presents some interesting conclusions about the conduct of British foreign policy on Hong Kong before and during Patten’s tenure. First published a decade ago this weighty tome, reprinted this year, documents an extraordinary diplomatic, political and personal drama.

Elegant Etiquette in the Nineteenth Century by Mallory James

Feb4Covering the intricacies of rank, the niceties of the street, the good conduct that was desired in the ballroom and the awkward blunders that a lady or gentleman would want to avoid, this is a lively, occasionally tongue-in-cheek discourse on nineteenth century manners and conduct. Based on advice given in the etiquette manuals of the time a useful reference for anyone interested in this fascinating period. And the Notes on each chapter and bibliography provide pointers for delving further into the world of polite society 200 years ago.

Still looking for bookish inspiration?

You might also like to take a peek at my other BookPicks this year this year
And I have a very limited number of Signed First Editions, which I’m happy to inscribe with a personal message

The IBERIAN FLAME Collectors Set

IberianFlameHB_packshotThis year there will be two Kydd titles released; the first is The Iberian Flame, out in June. The second, A Sea of Gold, will be launched in November. As usual, I will be offering a Collectors Set for each. These signed, numbered and embossed First Edition Sets are strictly limited in number to 500 only. I’m happy to write a short dedication on request. The Subscription List for The Iberian Flame is filling rapidly so if you’re interested don’t delay to avoid disappointment. Payment is via the links here

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Here’s what two of my editors have said of the manuscript of The Iberian Flame:

‘Congratulations on another masterful outing and one that will be a delight to both your fans and fans of historical fiction alike.’

‘Many congratulations on another gripping instalment in the career and life of Thomas Kydd. This is, as ever, a magnificent yarn, on land and at sea. Great characters – and marvellously wrought backdrops (you bring them so expertly to life), in seascapes, landscapes and cities or towns. A compelling, absorbing story.’

And here’s a taster of the story:

“1808. With the Peninsula in turmoil, Napoleon Bonaparte signs a treaty to dismember Portugal and put his brother, Joseph, on the throne of Spain. Meanwhile, Nicholas Renzi, the Lord Farndon, undertakes a deadly mission to stir up partisan unrest to disrupt this Napoleonic alliance with Spain.

Thrust into the crucible of the uprising, Captain Sir Thomas Kydd is dismayed to come up against an old foe from his past – now his superior and commander – who is determined to break him. Kydd will soon face the greatest decision of his professional career.

Bonaparte, incensed by the reverses suffered to his honour, gathers together a crushing force and marches at speed into Spain. After several bloody encounters the greatly outnumbered British expedition have no option other than make a fighting retreat to the coast. Only the Navy can save them.

But the flame of insurrection has been lit – and the Peninsular War has begun.”

The Iberian Flame will be published in hardback, ebook and audio download on June 14 in the UK by Hodder & Stoughton. It will also be available in the States in ebook and audiodownload at that time, with the hardback coming out in August.


BookPick: Winter Selection

As this new year begins here’s a trio of books that caught my eye. They’re all very much sea-focused so whether you’re a student of the role of the British Navy 1793-1815, drawn to great epic tales of survival or seeking to learn more about navigation at sea I think there’s something that will appeal. And as a bonus I have a copy of ‘The Endurance’ to give away. Just email with your postal details and ‘Giveaway’ in the subject line. Deadline for entry: January 23.

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Far Distant Ships by Quinton Barry

2018 bookpickThroughout the long drawn out war at sea during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, it was a cardinal principle of British naval strategy to blockade the port of Brest, the largest and most important of the French naval bases that threatened the security of the British Isles. The naval historian A.T. Mahan summed up this contribution of the Royal Navy to the ultimate defeat of Napoleon when he wrote so accurately and so memorably: ‘Those far distant, storm-beaten ships, upon which the Grand Army never looked, stood between it and the domination of the world.’ Well-written and researched, with maps and a useful bibliography, this book highlights just how contributory this blockade was to the mastery of the seas by the Royal Navy for so long, blending characters and grand strategies effortlessly into a very readable skein of history that ran continuously the entire length of the French wars.


Understanding a Nautical Chart by Paul Boissier

2018 bookpick2This updated second edition explains how charts are compiled and guides the reader through the elements that make up these vital navigational tools. In addition to a wealth of practical advice, there is a key to all the recently updated chart symbols and abbreviations from Symbols and Abbreviations Used on Admiralty Charts. My time in the Navy was spent almost entirely with paper charts so I am quite familiar with the subject matter of this book, but it is certainly a resource I wish I’d had when I first tried to understand and use nautical charts! I now use myself ECDIS (electronic charts) as research aids in writing my Kydd series and duly find these being given treatment as well in this book. The author had a most distinguished career in the Royal Navy and is now Chief Executive of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution. He writes delightfully; his asides won from a long professional acquaintance with the sea are always apposite and often amusing, sharing with me for instance an appreciation of the hard-won good sense and often romance to be found in the august pages of the Admiralty Pilots. This, and his book following ‘Learn the Nautical Rules of the Road‘ is highly commended to all those who venture to set forth upon Neptune’s Realm.


The Endurance by Caroline Alexander

2018 bookpick1Alexander’s subject, one of history’s greatest epics of survival, is presented along with the astonishing visual record of Frank Hurley, the Australian photographer. Together, text and a copious flood of priceless images re-create the terrible beauty of Antarctica, the awful destruction of the ship, and the crew’s heroic daily struggle to stay alive, a miracle achieved largely through Shackleton’s inspiring leadership. The survival of Hurley’s images is scarcely less miraculous. The original glass plate negatives, from which most of the book’s illustrations are reproduced, were stored in hermetically sealed canisters that survived months on the ice floes, a week in an open boat on the polar seas, and several more months buried in the snow. A thrilling account of one of the last great adventures in the Heroic Age of exploration.

Still looking for bookish inspiration?

You might also like to take a peek at my recent BookPicks this year
And I have a very limited number of Signed First Editions, which I’m happy to inscribe with a personal message

Heave Ho for the Festive Season!

This year seems to have flown by – with two Kydd titles, Persephone and The Baltic Prize, published Kathy and I certainly have been kept busy. We’ve also managed a location research trip to the Netherlands and Belgium gleaning material for future books. Next year looks set to be just as hectic, also with two Kydd titles in the pipeline. As usual, there will be an offering of Collectors Sets for each book. I’ll be releasing details of these in due course but in the meantime you can register your interest by emailing me at the address below.

Coming next year

The Iberian Flame will be published on June 14 in the UK (a few months later in the US, Canada and Australia)

Here’s a taster of the book:

IberianFlame cover1808. With the Peninsula in turmoil, Napoleon Bonaparte signs a treaty to dismember Portugal and put his brother, Joseph, on the throne of Spain. Meanwhile, Nicholas Renzi, the Lord Farndon, undertakes a deadly mission to stir up partisan unrest to disrupt this Napoleonic alliance with Spain. Thrust into the crucible of the uprising, Captain Sir Thomas Kydd is dismayed to come up against an old foe from his past – now his superior and commander – who is determined to break him. Kydd will soon face the greatest decision of his professional career.

Bonaparte, incensed by the reverses suffered to his honour, gathers together a crushing force and marches at speed into Spain. After several bloody encounters the greatly outnumbered British expedition have no option other than make a fighting retreat to the coast. Only the Navy can save them. But the flame of insurrection has been lit – and the Peninsular War has begun.

The second 2018 book is as yet untitled and will be published in October.

The Baltic Prize

I’ve been touched by your wonderful comments on this book. Here’s just three:

‘One of the best yet, a fabulous read. Next please.’

‘If you enjoy historical fiction books the man to be in awe of at the present is Julian Stockwin. His Thomas Kydd series is outstanding but what’s really amazing is that we are now on book 19 and it shows no sign of stagnating or slowing down its still as fresh and exciting as ever.’

‘A tremendously rousing nautical adventure.’

I always enjoy hearing from readers and will respond as soon as I can, usually within 48 hours. I can be contacted at this email or by snail-mail to Julian Stockwin, c/o Pawlyn & Co, 6 Costly St, Ivybridge, DEVON, PL21 0DB.

(The Baltic Prize is available in the States now as an ebook and will be out in hardback there on January 2.)

My blog on Christmas at Sea


And a Happy New Year to you all!

Books for Santa’s Sack 2017

I’m a bit of a bah humbug creature when it comes to the commercialisation of Christmas – but there’s one thing that I fervently believe: a book is a present that, if well chosen for the recipient, will give hours of pleasure and be a lasting reminder in itself of someone putting thought, not just money, into a Yuletide gift. So do consider adding some of these fine books – all with a maritime connection – to your gift-buying list. Hopefully, there’s something for everyone in this somewhat eclectic selection.

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Churchill and Fisher by Barry Gough

Dec1 churchillAt 600 pages this book is by far the lengthiest of my Christmas picks but will reward the reader’s investment in time with a dramatic narrative of two titans of the Admiralty locked in perilous destiny at the start of World War I. The author is a prize-winning historian and biographer, well fitted to undertake such a monumental saga, a story for the ages. For those wishing to delve deeper extensive references and an 18-page bibliography are provided.

Kings of the Sea by J D Davies

dec2kingsHaving enjoyed the author’s ‘Pepy’s Navy: The Ships, Men and Organisation’ I looked forward with anticipation to this new volume. The book is a fascinating journey into the world of the Stuart navy showing how the Kings of the Sea were absolutely central to the development of its ships, their deployment and the officer corps. This is the real beginning of what would become the greatest navy in the world.

Les bateaux de Ma Bibliothèque by Jean-Benoît Héron

dec 3 bateauxPublished in French, this captivating little tome, ‘The boats of my library – From Noah’s Ark to Nautilus: the Most Famous Ships of Literature’ celebrates vessels created by authors such as Jules Verne, Patrick O’brian, Joseph Conrad – and includes, to my immense pleasure, HMS Duke William. Héron’s illustrations are lovingly and meticulously created, making the book a delight to dip into on a cold wintry night by the fire – even if your French is a bit rusty! A truly lovely production.

The Trafalgar Chronicle by Peter Hore

Dec4 chronicleThe Trafalgar Chronicle, the yearbook of The 1805 Club, has established itself as a prime source of information for new research about the Georgian navy. Successive editors have widened the scope to include all sailing navies of the period. Each volume is themed, and this edition looks at the Royal Marines and the U.S. Marine Corps. Sixteen contributions from recognised authorities around the world make this a compelling read.

History of the Port of London by Peter Stone

dec5portThe River Thames has been integral to the prosperity of London since Roman times. Explorers sailed away from there on voyages of discovery to distant lands, colonies were established and a great empire grew. Funding their ships and cargoes helped make the City of London into the world’s leading financial centre. And in modern times the area was transformed into Docklands, a new heart of finance. A close-in view of the most famous seaport worldwide, the book will appeal to Londoners and also those outside the capital interested in Britain’s rich maritime heritage.

Last Voyage to Wewak by Simon J Hall

dec6wewakThe third in Simon Hall’s maritime trilogy, the book is an important historical record of life at sea during the last quarter of the 20th century, a way of life now vanished. The final crumbling of the British register caused officers like Hall to find themselves in a strange new world, sailing under flags of convenience with all the old certainties of life at sea having vanished. A sea tale that is both entertaining and poignant.

Still looking for bookish inspiration?

You might also like to take a peek at my other BookPicks this year this year

And if you’re looking for a Signed First Edition Kydd I still have a few assorted titles available (Kydd Club members are entitled to a 10% discount on all purchases; the discount will be refunded separately after purchase.) I’m happy to add a personal Christmas message. To ensure delivery in time for Christmas the deadline for orders is November 27. Don’t delay to avoid disappointment!

Agamemnon: the Darch Model


Devon-based Malcolm Darch has just completed a magnificent 1:64 scale model of HMS Agamemnon. His 57th commission, she was built for a private collector in the UK and just before she was shipped to her new home Kathy and I were honoured to be invited to a private viewing. I have had the privilege of seeing many fine ship models over the years but I have to say this one of Agamemnon is up there at the top, quite exquisite in appearance and the attention to the tiniest detail truly incredible. She’s a work of art in every sense, a unique homage to the beauty of the fighting ship under sail.

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From shipwright to model maker

Darchblog2 whole ship
Malcolm trained as a shipwright (about the same time as myself) on the world-famous Hamble river in the 1960s. After ten years in the trade he started building showcase models in Salcombe, Devon, where he still works in a sun-lit studio on the waterfront. He specialises in 19th and early 20th century ship models. Malcolm’s previous works include the steel barques Moshulu and Pamir, Tern III, Claud Worth’s famous cruising yacht and the frigate Minerva of 1780. Most of Malcolm’s models are in private hands but several years ago he was commissioned to build 1.24th scale models of the local RNLI’s entire fleet (from 1869 to the present day) and these are on display at the Salcombe Lifeboat House Museum.

Nelson’s favourite

HMS Agamemnon was a 64-gun third-rate ship-of-the-line of the Royal Navy. She saw service in the American Revolutionary, French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars and fought in many of the major naval battles of those conflicts. She is remembered as being Nelson’s favourite ship and was named after the mythical ancient Greek king Agamemnon, the first ship of the Royal Navy to bear the name. To her crew she was known affectionately as ‘Eggs and Bacon’.

Nelson served as Agamemnon‘s captain from January 1793 for 3 years and 3 months, during which time she saw considerable service in the Mediterranean. After Nelson’s departure, she was involved in the 1797 mutinies at Spithead and the Nore, and in 1801 was present at the first Battle of Copenhagen, but ran aground before being able to enter the action.

She fought at the Battle of Trafalgar on 21 October 1805, as part of Nelson’s weather column, where she forced the surrender of the Spanish four-decker Santssima Trinidad. Agamemnon‘s later career was served in South American waters off Brazil.

Sadly she was wrecked in June 1809 on an uncharted shoal in the mouth of the River Plate, whilst seeking shelter with the rest of her squadron from a storm. Recently, the wreck of Agamemnon has been located, and several artefacts have been recovered, including one of her 24lb cannon.

Research, research, research

Darchblog3 sternMalcolm’s research for this project included assistance from the National Maritime Museum staff; Christine Hyack, a researcher at the National Archive; The National Maritime Museum; and Chatham Staff with their collection of ship models.

He also consulted the Archivist with the Montagu Estate at Bucklers hard, Agamemnon‘s place of build in 1781, though, the model is shown during the period of Nelson’s command 1793 to 1796. The Admiralty order to cease frieze painting came through in 1795, and so Agamemnon would have lost her decoration upon the vessel returning to England when she had to undergo a refit in 1796. The Admiralty order to rearm ships of the line with carronades on the poop deck was being considered in 1796. It was the client’s wish to include them, his being a student of Nelson’s career led him to feel that if Nelson could have managed to get hold of some, he was sure he would have, regardless of the ongoing discussions at the Admiralty.

The research (which took 8 months, before any timber was cut) included compiling a set of drafts for Agamemnon using copies of the original drafts of over half a dozen similar men-of-war. (No original drafts for Agamemnon have surfaced yet)

Peeking through the windows

One of the fascinating features of the model is the detail that can be viewed by peeking through the windows of the ship. The main gun deck, fully fitted out with rigged 24lb cannon, pumps, capstans ladders etc., are visible through the stern chase ports. The upper gun deck and quarter deck, likewise fully fitted out, are visible through the stern windows.

The rigging was spun by William Mowll of Kent on his model ropewalk to the required specifications of dimensions colour and lay. The model is made entirely of boxwood including all the figure carving and intricate mouldings.

An ornate painted frieze runs the length of the vessel incorporating the story of Agamemnon and the Trojan wars brought about by his sister-in-law Helen being kidnapped by Paris and taken to Troy. The neo classical frieze (which gives the impression that the illustrations are in relief with the use of light & shaded colours) on the beak bulkhead contains images of the head of the wooden horse, also Achilles and Hector plus the usual rendering of weapons and flags. The frieze painting took 260 hours and wore out three 00000 sable brushes!

The figure carving. all in boxwood. incorporates Agamemnon as the figurehead, with the conception of Helen in the starboard trailboard at his feet (Leda & the Swan). The port trailboard shows his wife upon his return home after many years away fighting the war, about to kill him in the pool with a spear. She had taken a lover during his absence who persuaded her to do this terrible deed.

The stern carving was researched from a painting by Nicholas Pocock of the stern of the ship painted at Chatham in 1784 from life, whilst undergoing repairs for damage sustained at the Battle of the Saints two years earlier in the West Indies. The painting, an oil, was commissioned by Admiral Hood. It depicts Paris on the port quarter and Helen on the starboard quarter in all her beauty & finery. Three naked Trojan women hold aloft two silhouettes, one of George III and the other of his wife Charlotte. On the stern below are the usual female figures completing the stern figure decoration.

Many challenges

Darch and JS with AgamemnonThe ship’s boats, the largest of which at this period was the 32 foot pinnace, is shown mounted on the model. The other four boats are mounted at each corner of the display plinth. The boats shown off the ship are the launch, a smaller pinnace and two cutters, a jollyboat had not been issued at this date. Nelson took Agamemnon from Portsmouth to the Mediterranean at the outbreak of war in 1793 and she did not return to England for 3 years, so in some respects she was a bit of a time capsule for 1793 with regard to her appearance, although she picked up her extra black banding above the original band, initially a narrow band then added to subsequently.

For Malcolm this model presented many challenges, especially as he built in an unorthodox manner so that internal detail could be shown on a rigged model. He told me that it was a bit like a Chinese puzzle to assemble, not being finally put together until shortly before rigging, including rigging the steering cables from tiller to wheels.

Hardest of the challenges was steaming the boxwood planking around the hard turns under the stern, just as the men of the day at Buckler’s Hard would have struggled, but being a fully qualified timber shipwright helped in the task. He also found assembling the complicated grating under the bowsprit very tricky & frustrating.

Eight months of initial research and 53 months of build time later the magnificent Darch Agamemnon model was completed. Having finished Agamemnon, his most difficult and the largest commission to date, Malcolm says he intends to concentrate on smaller projects in the future. His next commission is a trading smack crossing a square yard of 1811 vintage, built at his home port of Salcombe, and involved in supplying the Peninsular Campaign. I look forward to seeing her, too…

BookPick: Seven September Selections

Autumn (or Fall for my American friends) always seems a good time to curl up with an engrossing book. This BookPick has seven items, from a paean to recreational sailing to a chronicle of the 1779 siege of Gibraltar to a celebration of the most-used weapon in history. Whether you’re looking for an addition to your library or just a good read, I hope there’s something for everyone in this special selection.

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Swords and Swordsmen by Mike Loades

Sept 1 swordsMany will know author Mike Loades as a TV presenter of various historical weapons programmes. In the 1970s he pioneered the practical interpretation of medieval and renaissance fight manuals and has been a consultant as a historical weapons expert and military historian for numerous media. This work is somewhat of a labour of love and as Mike himself writes in the Introduction: ‘From the great deeds of mythical heroes to the gentlemanly art of duelling and the swash and swagger of the silver screen, the sword remains at the heart of our romantic imagination.‘ Loades links many of the swords he discusses to specific individuals, from Tutankhamun to General Custer, showcasing them in the social and military context of their time. The lavishly illustrated book highlights the major developments in the sword’s design, manufacture and use from Ancient Egypt to the American Civil War. A useful glossary and bibliography are provided. A must-read for any student of the most-used weapon in history.

The Naval War in the Baltic by Poul Grooss

Sept 2naval war balticDuring location research for The Baltic Prize I had the honour of meeting retired Danish Navy captain Poul Grooss, now teacher of naval warfare at the Royal Danish Naval Academy. Following my investigations about the importance of the Baltic during the Napoleonic war period I was fascinated to read about the astonishing events in that region during the Second World War. In this book Grooss chronicles the ferocious fighting at sea that occurred and covers such major events as the siege of Leningrad, the Soviet campaign against Sweden in 1942, the three wars in Finland 1939-44, the Soviet liberation of the Baltic states, the German evacuation of two million people from the East and the Soviet race westwards in 1945. There are fascinating insights into many other aspects of how the naval war in the Baltic shaped World War II. A superbly researched book that is a major contribution to the naval history of this era.

British Destroyers by Norman Friedman

Sept 3Br destroyersI have a great admiration for the scope and depth of Norman Friedman’s books and this one is no exception. In the late nineteenth century the advent of the modern torpedo woke the Royal Navy to a potent threat to its domination, not seriously challenged since Trafalgar. For the first time a relatively cheap weapon had the potential to sink the largest and costliest exemplars of sea power. Not surprisingly, Britain’s traditional rivals invested heavily in the new technology that promised to overthrow the naval status quo. The Royal Navy was also quick to adopt the new weapon, but the British concentrated on developing counters to the essentially offensive tactics associated with torpedo-carrying small craft. From these efforts came torpedo catchers, torpedo-gunboats and eventually the torpedo-boat destroyer, a type so successful that it eclipsed and usurped the torpedo-boat itself. With its title shortened to destroyer, the type evolved rapidly and was soon in service in many navies, but in none was the evolution as rapid or as radical as in the Royal Navy. This book is the first detailed study of their early days, combining technical history with an appreciation of the changing role of destroyers and the tactics of their deployment. As well as Friedman’s excellent narrative, the ship plans by A D Baker III and drawings by Alan Raven are to be thoroughly commended. A classic.

A New History of Yachting by Mike Bender

Sept 4Hist yachtingThere hasn’t been a history of yachting published for many years. This book, by a leading expert in the field, is the first major history of yachting for over a quarter of a century. Setting developments within political, social and economic changes of the whole of the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland, Bender tells the story of yachting from Elizabethan times to the present day. Did you know that the first yacht club in the British Isles, if not the world, was the Water Club of the Harbour of Cork (created in 1720)? Or that the novelist Fanny Burney wrote one of the first accounts by a woman of pleasure sailing in 1773? Or that after his successful solo circumnavigation of the globe in Gypsy Moth Francis Chichester on 7 July 1967 was knighted by the Queen in the courtyard of the Royal Naval College with Drake’s sword? These and many other fascinating facts and anecdotes about how yachtsmen and yachtswomen have used the rivers and seas – along with an extensive bibliography for those wanting to delve deeper – make it a must-read for all sailing enthusiasts!

Gibraltar by Roy and Lesley Adkins

Sept 5Gib adkinsI’ve had the pleasure of meeting authors Roy and Lesley Adkins and having enjoyed their previous books (Jack Tar, Trafalgar and Eavesdropping on Jane Austen’s England) looked forward to this, their latest offering. For over three and a half years, from 1779 to 1782, the tiny territory of Gibraltar was besieged and blockaded on land and at sea by the overwhelming forces of Spain and France; it became the longest siege in British history. The book begins with the tragic sinking, within sight of Spithead, of HMS Royal George, part of the much-needed relief convoy bringing supplies to a starving and war-weary Gibraltar. The authors then go on to explain why this had become such a bitterly-contested territory and why the Great Siege had such an impact on the outcome of the American War of Independence. The Adkins bring the siege vividly to life, especially the everyday experiences of all those involved in the struggle for a fortress located on little more than two square miles of rock. Maps and colour illustrations complement the text. An epic page-turner.

Wreck, Rescue & Salvage by Dick Jolly

sept 6wreckFascinated by the world of commercial deep-sea tugs and salvage, Jolly landed a job on RFA Typhoon. Relocating to Singapore and with a Foreign-Going Tugmaster’s qualification under his belt, he went on to travel the oceans of the world, hauling derelict ships, dredgers, floating cranes and all manner of other craft. After a short break ashore working as an opal-miner in the outback of Australia, he returned to the work he loved. Captain Jolly relates many fascinating stories from the hard-bitten world of deep-sea towing and marine salvage: dragging blazing ships off rocky shorelines, rescuing crews from the middle of the ocean and even avoiding hostile natives. On one occasion, he had to drive through the jungle at break-neck speed to avoid being taken hostage. These and many other gripping adventures are recounted with keen observation and humour. An exciting, real-life maritime tale!

Naval Families, War and Duty in Britain, 1740-1810 by Ellen Gill

Sept 7naval familiesThis book explores the competing demands of family, war and duty in the lives of eighteenth-century and early nineteenth century naval men and their families. It covers not just the men afloat and their wives ashore, but also the rich and complex financial, professional and fraternal networks that were essential to naval lives. By drawing on a substantial body of personal correspondence, the author goes beyond cultural and gendered stereotypes to examine the roles and responsibilities of men, women and children within a naval family and how war shaped and determined those roles. The families include those of several famous naval figures and also the families of seamen. Providing insights into the historical roles and responsibilities of men, women and children within naval families, this is an important contribution to maritime social history.

Still looking for bookish inspiration?

You might also like to take a peek at my other BookPicks this year this year
And I have a very limited number of Signed First Editions, which I’m happy to inscribe with a personal message


Win The Baltic Prize!

The Baltic Prize will be the next title in the Kydd Series. In the run-up to the official launch of The Baltic Prize on November 2 we’re holding a special contest for a prize of an early copy of the book. There will be five winners!
To enter, email with the name of the birth town of Thomas Kydd. Please include your full postal address and ‘Baltic Prize Contest’ in the subject line. Five winners will be drawn on September 25 and notified by email

Here’s what two of my editors said of the manuscript of The Baltic Prize:

‘Another brilliant yarn, set against a series of terrific northern backdrops, full of suspense. Many congratulations – I’m sure that hosts of readers will be as enthralled by this one as I was.’

‘Many thanks for another superb Kydd outing. As usual you have mixed fascinating historical detail with stirring action and characterisation.’

The Baltic Prize
BALTIC PRIZE packshot1808. Parted from his new bride, Captain Sir Thomas Kydd is called away to join the Northern Expedition to Sweden, now Britain’s only ally in the Baltic. Following the sudden declaration of war by Russia and with the consequent threat of the czar’s great fleet in St Petersburg, the expedition must defend Britain’s dearly-won freedom in the those waters.

However Kydd finds his popular fame as a frigate captain is a poisoned chalice; in the face of jealousy and envy from his fellow captains, the distrust of the commander-in-chief and the betrayal of friendship by a former brother-in-arms now made his subordinate, can he redeem his reputation?

In an entirely hostile sea Tyger ranges from the frozen north to the deadly confines of the Danish Sound – and plays a pivotal role in the situation ensuing after the czar’s sudden attack on Finland. This climaxes in the first clash of fleets between Great Britain and Russia in history. To the victor will be the prize of the Baltic!

The Baltic Prize will be available in hardback, ebook and audio download.

It will be launched at a special event at The Hayridge, Cullompton on November 2. Full details will be announced closer to the time.

The book will be available to purchase in the UK on November 2

And in the US on January 2, 2018

You can also purchase at Book Depository, with FREE POSTAGE worldwide

Salute the Good Ship Vega!

Humanitarian Mission Vega 2011Since first hearing of the work of Shane Granger & Meggi Macoun aboard Vega several years ago I’ve followed their work with growing admiration for what two people can do to really make a difference. Vega is a 125-year-old Hardanger-built Norwegian sailing cargo vessel.
The great tsunami of 2004 was the catalyst for Vega‘s humanitarian mission. Shane and Meggi were in Langkawi, Malaysia, when the disaster struck; they undertook to carry food and medical supplies to communities along the hardest hit western coast of Sumatra. What started as a modest effort assisting a single island has grown to the delivery of some twenty tons of urgently needed supplies every year. This is coupled with eye testing and distribution of reading glasses, and other vital work. Since starting their work they have sailed around 110,000 miles to deliver 250 tons of aid to some of the most remote islands in Southeast Asia. They currently provide 122 traditional midwives, 9 small clinics and 18 health posts with equipment, medical supplies and training. They directly assist 34 communities and have an impact on the education of 15,000 young people. Ninety-three percent of the cash donations they receive goes directly into the hands of those who need help in the form of tools, medical supplies and other goods.
I’m delighted Shane has agreed to take time from his busy schedule to answer questions for this Guest Blog.
Can you describe the various activities scheduled for this year

Vega_062017 marks the 13th year Vega has been delivering educational and medical supplies to the remote island communities of Eastern Indonesia and East Timor. Although our efforts have been successful – in some cases maternal and natal mortality rates have fallen by over 50% – there is still much that needs to be done. Providing vegetable seeds helps to improve a community’s diet. Environmental education is aiding communities address the growing issue of waste management. To that must be added the fact we need to do serious refitting above deck on Vega this year. This is work that will require some very creative financial efforts since Meggi and I are not wealthy and depend on the good will of others to continue our work.

Our normal yearly schedule is divided into two parts. From roughly mid October until May we are busy between Jakarta, Singapore, Malaysia, and Thailand doing maintenance, visiting boat shows, and sourcing the supplies we need for our next deliveries. From June to October we are usually out making our deliveries. This year is different. Due to the need for refitting we will be cutting short our delivery period to each island so that the latter half of September and the first half of October can be dedicated to needed repairs.

What are the challenges involved with keeping Vega seaworthy?

Vega 10Every year the 125-year-old historic vessel Vega sails around 7,500 miles to collect the supplies needed and then deliver them. That means Vega must be kept in serious sea worthy condition. Maintenance is a constant ongoing effort. Supplies needed to maintain Vega, like Stockholm Tar and real marline twine, are often impossible to find and a source of constant anguish.

Without the invaluable help of our extensive group of friends, keeping Vega sea worthy would not be possible. Being retired, Meggi and I are not wealthy and Vega is all we have. When something breaks replacing it is often a stressful experience. That said, it seems every time we find ourselves in another pickle someone steps round the corner, takes a look, and says, ‘Looks like your furbisher tube is discombubbled at the widget joint. Lucky for you my brother’s company makes those things.’

What has been the most rewarding moment or moments for you over the years?

MISSION 2016There are so many special moments during our deliveries that selecting one as the most rewarding is impossible. Imagine the smile on an elderly woman whose vision, and profession as a weaver, were restored by a simple pair of reading glasses or a young girl trembling with excitement as she received a new back pack filled with school supplies, or the traditional rural midwife sitting on Vega‘s deck cradling a new neo-natal resuscitator, tears flowing down her cheeks, as she searched through the complete midwife kit we brought her.

Tell me about Scourge…

Vega _11No traditional sailing vessel is complete without a ship’s cat. Seven years ago while making repairs in Singapore, Meggi found a tiny lost kitten and promptly brought her on board. Eventually we named her Scourge. Since then Scourge has decided Vega is hers, allowing us to empty the littler box and provide her with water and food, until she discovers how to hunt the yellow plastic bags of her favorite cat food. When the seas are rough she first complains vociferously then curls into a snug place and sleeps. An adventurous creature, she once attacked a halyard fast playing out as the sail came down. Launching herself at it she soon had her claws dug in. The first we knew of this was a mournful howl of anguish from half way up the mast.

As a young cat she once fell in the water while we were at dock. One of our crew bravely dove in to rescue her. As he approached she swam his way then clambered onto the top of his head – claws and all. She remained perched there clawing the lad’s scalp until he was safely back on deck then dove down below and wasn’t seen for ages.

She’s a real character: an artist friend of ours is creating a comic book about Vega from her point of view.

Your work now involves training of health professionals. Can you elaborate on this?

Medang Island midwife Mitha recieves her yearly resupply of mediTraining for traditional midwives and health workers is an important part of improving an island’s health services. Since Meggi and I are not health professionals, we try our best to find Indonesian doctors who are willing to take part in our adventures. Their job is to hold clinic on the islands and provide training for the local midwives and health workers. Often the doctor we bring is the first ‘real’ doctor to set foot on those islands. The entire village turns out, usually just to say they saw the doctor.

Vega9Reading glasses are another part of our program where a modest investment provides major returns. Older people are an important resource for these small communities. They are often the most experienced island artisans. As their eyesight begins to fail their ability to contribute to the well being of family and community diminishes. This problem can usually be cured by an inexpensive pair of reading glasses. Over the years we have developed a simple test to determine the proper strength of glasses needed. We teach local health workers how to administer that test, then leave them with an appropriate stock of reading glasses.

Anything you’d like to add?

Vega is small, but highly efficient, ‘Mom & Pop’ charity. There are no big companies throwing money at us. We accomplish what we do thanks to a large network of friends who, like us, want to make the world a little bit better. Those friends are the real heroes who help us keep Vega afloat and provide the supplies for us to deliver.

If you’d like to follow Vega‘s adventures do visit and ‘like’ their FaceBook page Historic Vessel Vega – as well as updates on their work Shane and Meggi have posted many photographs and a number of videos.
Please consider helping their work by making a donation via Paypal through their website

Shane has written a book, The Vega Adventures, which I thoroughly enjoyed reading

You can buy the book at Amazon UK, Amazon US or at Book Depository (free shipping worldwide)

Proceeds from all book sales help support their vital work

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