On her maiden voyage in 1851, the clipper ship Flying Cloud, carrying valuable cargo and 11 passengers, sailed from New York to San Francisco by the only route possible before the construction of the Panama Canal, around the tip of South America. The ship made the 16,000-mile trip in 89 days, 21 hours--a record time. As astonishing as the speed, however, was the fact that the ship's navigator was the captain's wife, Eleanor Creesy, an experienced pilot who charted the course using the revolutionary new theories about wind directions and ocean currents propounded by Matthew Maury, superintendent of the navy's National Observatory. The subtitle of the book is misleading, however. This is really the story of the collaboration between an extraordinary woman and her husband, Captain Josiah Perkins Creesy. While the captain sailed the ship and dealt with emergencies--such as broken masts, storms and disgruntled sailors--his wife calmly plotted the course, managed day-to-day life on board and coped with the sometimes rash decisions made by her husband, for whom the safety of his crew and passengers was less important than his desire to set a record and claim the financial reward the ship's owners would pay for speedy delivery of the cargo. Because the author doesn't embellish his sources--the ship's log, letters, a passenger's diary and archival documents, none of which include much personal detail--the characters of Eleanor and her husband remain shadowy. Still, Shaw (Daring the Sea) presents a vivid picture of life on the high seas with enough drama to interest even those who know nothing about sailing. A glossary of nautical terms helps with the technical details. Photos not seen by PW. (July)
Reviewed on: 07/03/2000 Release date: 07/01/2000 Genre: Nonfiction
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