Wake of the Perdido Star by Gene Hackman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I enjoyed this post-American Revolutionary seafaring tale for its new twists on an old traditional sailor plot-line. Young Jack O’Reilly is at that late teen-age point where he longs to escape the confines of his parental supervision, stretch his legs and take on the world. When Jack’s father’s work plays out in New England, the family sets off to start a new life in Cuba on hereditary plantation holdings. Arriving in Cuba, aboard the ill-fated ship, The Perdido Star, the family dreams are shattered as they find their lands confiscated by the powerful Count de Silva. The Count’s treacherous plans play out as Jack’s parents are murdered and he is forced to flee the country. Again aboard The Perdido Star, lumbered with a half-mad captain and semi-hostile crew around him, young Jack O’Reilly learns a sailor’s trade in the school of hard knocks.
This is one of the very interesting parts of the book as it details daily life aboard ship, the interplay of personalities in a confined space that lasts for months on end, and the different roles played by the ship’s sailors, mates and the captain. As the ship reaches the roaring ’40, headed south around Cape Horn, the lack of a proper Captain puts the ship into repeated danger. Good seamanship can only be coordinated by having a strong hand at the helm and the captain’s antics make him the laughing-stock of the ship with a consequent failure to deal with the raging weather surrounding the Horn. As masts break and men are washed overboard, the ship becomes a rudderless derelict during a hurricane. Jack and the other survivors of the storm find themselves wrecked on a tropical island in the middle of the Pacific. There they spend more than a year meeting the natives, salvaging cargo from the wreckage of their ship and hoping for the chance passage of another ship to take them off the islands.
At this point in the book, I was intrigued by the novel methods used to salvage the muskets and other stores in extremely deep water using a makeshift diving bell. After months of isolation, an opportunity to escape the islands comes in the form of a Dutch slaver. It is a mixed blessing as the Americans are faced with either becoming prisoners of the Dutch, or being wiped out so that the slavers can capture the local natives to sell them as slaves to the East Indies plantations. In the ensuing battles, Jack finds that he has natural military leadership abilities and is accepted by the crew due to his size and level headed thinking abilities. When the crew of The Perdido Star finally takes control of the Dutch ship, they limp to Manila in the Philippines and complete repairs before heading back to America. Stopping in Cuba, Jack, now a full-grown man, leads the men on a rampage and wreaks his revenge upon Count de Silva.
You will find this book to be a fun read. Enjoy.
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