Tuesday, November 06, 2018

Book Review: Arthur Ransome under sail by Roger Wardale

Arthur Ransome's love of sailing can be read in every line of his Swallows and Amazon's series of books that went on to inspire many sailors.

In real life he spent a lot of his time afloat in a variety of boats, as described in this book. And there were quite a few of them, including Swallow, Racundra, Nancy Blackett, Lottie Blossom, Peter Duck and Selina King.

The voyages on Racundra he wrote up in two books, the first and third cruises of that yacht, which alas I discovered were all too boring.

This book has the advantages that a) it summarises those cruising recollections (i.e. its author, Roger Wardale, read those books so we don't have to) and b) it points out similarities between events in Arthur Ransome's life that might have been re-used in his stories.

For example:
  • The safety in sailing offshore in Racundra was similar to John's predicament in We Didn't Mean to Go To Sea
  • Ransome and Evgenia were helped to sail by Captain Sehmel, who was to become Peter Duck (both had sailed on the Thermopylae)
  • Going ashore on deserted islands in the Baltics was a bit like Titty and Bill going ashore in Peter Duck
  • The great frost of 1895, when Ransome was in the Lake District as a child, was re-imagined in Winter Holiday
  • Ransome also met the Norwegian polar explorer Nansen while in Riga
  • The yacht Goblin from We Didn't Mean to Go To Sea was a faithful copy of Ransome's Nancy Blackett
  • Research for that book included a trip by Ransome over to Holland
  • Sailing friends of Ransome on the East Coast had a yacht called Lapwing...which was included in Secret Water
  • Ransome also explored The Naze aka the secret water when living at Pin Mill (which was the Swallows base for two stories)
  • He also went sailing with friends on the Norfolk Broads, which were used in the stories of the Coots
And that's to say nothing of the countless connections with Ransome's life to the Lake District sailing stories.

I also learnt how Ransome was instrumental in forming the Cruising Association, where I've been for a couple of really interesting talks with good food.

The first half of the book was the best for me, the second had two flaws:
  1. It didn't make so much sense to me to describe retrospective literary connections i.e. when Ransome's sailing reflected his books (rather than his books coming from his experiences)
  2. Ransome kept on commissioning yachts and after a while it becomes yet another boat project
All in all, though, a very good read for anyone with an interest in finding out more about Arthur Ransome, the man behind some of our favourite children's books.

Note that Roger Wardale is a bit of a Ransome expert and there are two other books that might be of interest:
  • In Search of Swallows and Amazons: Arthur Ransome's Lakeland (focusing on the Lake District, as described here)
  • Arthur Ransom on the Broads (as reviewed here)

Updated: Racundra (as per here) or Recundra (as per front page)?


Paul Mullings said...

Isn’t Racudra spelt with an “a”?

Paul Mullings said...

Whoops!! Racundra.....

JP said...

Good catch! Yes, it does look like Roger Wardale's front cover (which I used as the spelling) is wrong