The ocean — vast, brutal, beautiful, and so very deep — is a thrilling setting for stories. Seafaring heroes and heroines are challenged by external forces like the wind and waves, as well as internal demons that become unwelcome companions in the close quarters of a ship.
The sea is a metaphor for everything that’s important to us: for adventure and creativity and love. It’s fascinated humans since the beginning of time, inspiring poets, historians, and novelists, as well as adventurers, conquerors, and pirates.
From luxury cruises to battered warships, open seas to exotic ports, the ocean is a compelling setting for stories of big adventure, quiet moments, human vs. nature, and the drama found above and below decks.
In this episode, we discuss essential words and phrases associated with the sea — including an introduction to the first poet (a lady poet!) — and recommend books that made us feel the ocean breeze and smell the salt in the air.
Then David chats with B.J. Porter, an American father and husband from Ohio, who sailed with his family halfway around the world in their boat the Evenstar.
Read the full transcript of Episode 6: The Sea.
When you’re out to sea like that, it’s… It’s never quiet, but it’s not noisy. There’s sort of a rhythm of noise, you know, the boat’s moving and you hear the hiss of the water, and you hear the flutter of the sails, and you rarely hear things like birds. But then again, other times at night, it’s quiet enough so that you can hear dolphins come up and breathe next to the boat. — B.J. Porter
For the past eight years, B.J. Porter has been sailing half the world, from New England to New Zealand, with his wife and his two children. He tells us about how they got started, what it was like raising two adolescents at sea, and some of the books that inspired him in the first place.
Connect with B.J.
Books mentioned by B.J.
The Coconut Milk Run: This is the route across the Pacific from east to west, and includes ports in the Galapagos, the Marquesas, the Tuomotus, French Polynesia, Cook Islands, Tonga, Fiji, and Vanuatu. More details on the Coconut Milk Run.
Enheduanna, the world’s first known poet. More on Enheduanna.
Ya’qubi, 9th-century historian and geographer. Here’s the passage Ya’qubi wrote about the seven seas:
Whoever wants to go to China must cross seven seas, each one with its own color and wind and fish and breeze, completely unlike the sea that lies beside it. The first of them is the Sea of Fars, which men sail setting out from Siraf. It ends at Ra’s al-Jumha; it is a strait where pearls are fished. The second sea begins at Ra’s al-Jumha and is called Larwi. It is a big sea, and in it is the Island of Waqwaq and others that belong to the Zanj. These islands have kings. One can only sail this sea by the stars. It contains huge fish, and in it are many wonders and things that pass description. The third sea is called Harkand, and in it lies the Island of Sarandib, in which are precious stones and rubies. Here are islands with kings, but there is one king over them. In the islands of this sea grow bamboo and rattan. The fourth sea is called Kalah and is shallow and filled with huge serpents. Sometimes they ride the wind and smash ships. Here are islands where the camphor tree grows. The fifth sea is called Salahit and is very large and filled with wonders. The sixth sea is called Kardanj; it is very rainy. The seventh sea is called the sea of Sanji, also known as Kanjli. It is the sea of China; one is driven by the south wind until one reaches a freshwater bay, along which are fortified places and cities, until one reaches Khanfu.
From ‘Two Truths and a Lie’:
Footlight Parade: In Alan Furst’s novel Dark Voyage, the crew of the watch Busby Berkeley’s 1933 film Footlight Parade on the deck of the ship.
Cruise ship libraries: See a photo and get the full story on cruise ship libraries here.
Sea shanties — Roll the Old Chariot: The clip of the song ‘Roll the Old Chariot’ in our podcast is performed by David Coffin and a group of people at the 2010 Portsmouth Maritime Folk Festival. David Coffin is a musician and educator who performs throughout New England.
And more sea shanties because we can’t get enough:
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Top image courtesy of Henrique Setim.
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