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A Nautical Odyssey: an illustrated maritime history from Cook to Shackleton Bell, David C. 2010

Horwitz 2002 US
Horwitz 2002 US

A Nautical Odyssey: an illustrated maritime history from Cook to Shackleton

By David C. Bell, and published in 2010 by Quiller Publishing Ltd. ISBN 978 1 84689 081 9.

This book reproduces many watercolours and drawings "that go back many years" by the marine artist David Bell, a former navigator in the Merchant Navy. They are beautifully painted and dominate the pages, with the accompanying text fitting in around them. Although some are placed in the conventional way in the middle of a page with a black line surrounding them, many are printed lightly in the page, with the text on top of parts of them. By doing so several paintings are shown twice, generally to good effect. However, some appear over and over again as if a space needed to be filled and anything would do.

The book is set out in seven chapters covering: James Cook, William Bligh, George Vancouver, Matthew Flinders, Horatio Nelson, the Clipper Ships, and Shackleton with Scott. The text and captions describe the men, their ships and voyages. Regrettably, there are several errors that spoil the reading for someone who knows the stories. For example, a caption states "Endeavour - On the first voyage Cook made his first sighting of New Zealand halfway down the west coast of South Island", and Kealakekua Bay is spelt Kealeakue.

Bell refers to a "rare Beaglehole book on Pacific Explorers". However, he gives no details of it, nor is it included in the bibliography, which comprises a list of 87 book titles and authors without any publisher names or dates of publication, nor any explanation of their relevance or usefulness.

As the book is about historical ships, it is confusing to see scenes of a different age mixed in with them. The Endeavour section includes a beached ketch at Whitby c1880 and a view of a modern Staithes. Intertwined with the stories of the sailors are some personal reminiscences of the author's visits to the same places. A curious mix that adds little to the enjoyment of the story or the pictures.

The book ends with a list of the paintings and drawings selected for the book giving for each the title and original size. But there is no indication of the date each was painted nor the page number where that painting appears in the book.

My overall feeling is of a book of beautiful paintings, spoilt by attention to detail.

Reviewer: Ian Boreham

Originally published in Cook's Log, page 44, volume 33, number 4 (2010).

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