Book Review - Sea Struck

by W.H. Bunting
Published by Tilbury House 366 pages hardcover $30

Sea Struck By W.H. BuntingDuring the final years of American square-rigged sail, from the 1880s to the turn of the last century, tens of thousands of young men living along the coast of the Northeast were captivated by the ships that were built in towns like Bath, Maine and sailed from such ports as New Bedford, Massachusetts to distant ports around the world. The adventure of shipping out on a commercial square-rigger was a rite of passage for countless “sea struck” young men.

Jointly published by Tilbury House, the Martha’s Vineyard Historical Society and the New Bedford Whaling Museum, this fascinating book comprises firsthand accounts of voyages made by three young men from Massachusetts. Frank Besse and Carleton Allen sailed as paying passengers aboard the William J. Rotch and the Guy C. Goss, respectively, while Rodman Swift chose to sign onto the four-masted bark Astral as an ordinary seaman. All three recorded their experiences in journals.

Meticulously researched, beautifully written and comprehensively footnoted, Sea Struck is a compelling narrative of long, difficult and often dangerous passages, as seen through the eyes of three young adventurers. Among the many archival photographs in the book are several exceptional images made by Carleton Allen during a stint aboard the bark Hawaiian Isles.

A resident of Whitefield, ME, W.H. Bunting is the author of Portrait of a Port: Boston 1852-1914; Steamers, Schooners, Cutters, and Sloops; A Day’s Work: A Sample of Historic Maine Photographs, 1860 -1920, and co-author, with Earle G. Shettleworth, Jr., of An Eye for the Maine Coast: The Maritime and Monhegan Island Photography of Eric Hudson. An enthralling record of life before the mast in a bygone era, Sea Struck deserves a place of honor in every sailor’s library. For more information on the books about ships, boats and canoes, Maine and New England, and children’s books published by Tilbury House, visit

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