The Reading Room

Sea and Islands

Hammond Innes on sailing…

Hammond Innes (1913-1998)  was a prolific British author of novels, children’s books and travelogues. An intrepid traveller, he was fascinated by the sea and stuck steadfast to his policy of spending two months a year cruising foreign waters.  He had a yacht built in Holland to his own specifications and named it Mary Deare after his 1956 novel The Wreck of the Mary Deare  which was adapted into a film starring Gary Cooper. The yacht, a forty two foot sloop took Innes and his wife Dorothy to the Western Isles,  Atolls in the Indian Ocean to Scandinavia and the Golden Horn.

Written during the first half of the sixties, Sea and Islands was his follow-up travel book to Harvest of Journeys  first published in 1960. It’s a remarkable read, difficult to stave off the pangs of envy I felt reading his exploits and the life writing books had given him in a golden age of post-war travel and adventure.  This Companion Book Club  edition is full of wonderful colour and black and white photographs, there is something I find quite magical about the colour plates of the fifties and sixties and Innes’ collection doesn’t disappoint. Amongst others we see the author and his wife meet Tito, the former President of Yugoslavia. a Dhoni sailing on a turquoise lagoon, the ruins of the Temple of Poseidon to farmers huts in the Outer Hebrides.

Innes combines the styles of intrepid travel writer with that of the best-selling novelist, he begins the book with him competing in the North Sea Hook Race when his yacht lost its mast in a Force 8 gale. From there he takes us to calmer waters, from his three thousand mile journey to Malta via Gibraltar, the Balearics, Corsica and Sardinia to the coastal regions of Scandinavia. I found his narrative on the Maldives particularly interesting. He visited Gan, a British air force staging base in 1963:

‘Five hundred British servicemen live here in complete isolation, a year at a stretch; no wives, no families, confined to Gan and barred from visiting any of the other islands of this atoll group. But life here has its compensations. Addu Atoll is as near to island paradise as you will find anywhere in the seven seas. The water temperature is a permanent 82 degrees F, the reefs swarm with fish, the shade temperature varies between 70° and 90° F and though the rainfall is 100 inches a year it tends to fall in short, concentrated bursts; the rest of the time the sun shines and the waters of the lagoon sparkle with the trade wind breeze”

Imagine, if you will, a year out of grey 1960s Britain and a year on a remote atoll in the Indian Ocean. Oh for a time machine!


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